Symbols and Humor as Works of Justice and Citizenship in the Gezi Protests of Instanbul

This grant enabled Dr. Gül Çalışkan to interview specific individuals in Istanbul and Ankara, during July and August 2014.

Summary of project: 

The protests, which took place during the summer of 2013 in Turkey, made use of artistic symbols and humor as expressions of popular culture, and as acts of participatory citizenship. Protest music, performance art, or street and digital art have become increasingly integral to everyday activism, whether in the form of individual claims or as part of larger public causes. The Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and the Ankara student protests produced some of the most vibrant examples of symbols and humor used as significant artistic expressions of contemporary culture. With the help of social media, such symbols and humor found a vast, interactive audience in both the global and local domains during the summer of 2013.

As the world followed these protests, people grew familiar with a series of iconic figures, including the Woman in Red, Reading Man, the Pots & Pans Orchestra, Guitar Hero, Standing Man, Woman in Black, Vedat the Drummer, Dancing Man, and Aunt Vildan, just to name few. The humor and artistic drama these figures conveyed crossed cultural boundaries, demonstrating a new kind of “global-local nexus,” and a “glocal” culture. Such “glocal” expressions erupted simultaneously across cities and national boundaries. By “glocality,” we refer to “[t]he myriad forms of connectivity and flows linking the local (and national) to the global – as well as the West to the East, and the North to the South” (Steger, 2013 p. 2).

There has been a growing body of work in the field of globalized movements for justice (Amoore, 2005; Benhabib, 2011; Kurasawa, 2009; Robinson and Tormey, 2009), including investigations of performance arts as forms of resistance, rehumanization and reconciliation (Cohen, Varea, and Walker, 2011). However, more research is needed on the role of symbols and humor in the creation of an emerging global civil society.

Through narrative analysis of the symbols and humor created during the Gezi protests, Dr. Gül Çalışkan want to explore the challenges this movement brought to modern notions of citizenship, activism, and social justice. I propose to analyze the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and the Ankara student protests that took place during the summer of 2013 in Turkey. Dr. Gül Çalışkan will examine the symbols and humor used in these events to discern their significance as expressions of popular culture and as acts of citizenship.

To do this, Dr. Gül Çalışkan intends to meet and interview the individuals who created these artistic expressions, during July and August 2014. Istanbul and Ankara will be the locations/site of the study. In her analysis, Dr. Gül Çalışkan will be drawing on a diverse body of evidence collected through online research and my interviews with the individuals who shaped the protests with their art.

The following research questions will addressed: What hybrid forms of resistance have these expressions created? What are the implications they bring for the way we understand solidarity? How fleeting or long lasting are their effects on society? How do these expressions combine the logic of collective and personal action? What kind of citizenship has been articulated?

Gül Çalışkan