My Kaaba is Human is a photography project which features stories of people from all around the world. We conversed with Sinem Taş, the photographer who realized this project, about her experiences, travels, opinions, and future plans.
You have been on the road for some time now. When I read your book My Kaaba is Human, in which you collected your travel stories, I came to realize that despite the cultural and spatial differences, we are vexed by similar issues. The difficulties of being a woman, bullying attitudes and behaviors against those who remain outside the commonly held norms pertaining to religion, language, race, and sexual orientation. Yet, we all walk on the same soil.
We do. Whereas the soil on which we step with our bare foots accepts all, we somehow cannot learn to do the same. We will become soil one day, but we have not as of yet learned how to become soil. We create boxes, and then we exclude and mark as others those who do not fit into these boxes. Each society does this in different ways.
For instance, a half-French half-Belgian bisexual man whom I have met in Morocco when recounting his divorce told me that the most difficult part of the process was to explain it to his children. This was because the children had hard time in accepting and sharing with their friends the fact that their father is bisexual. Jean told me that back in the day (15-20 years ago) they were not able to live their sexual orientation the way they wanted. Today, all his family members know about his sexual orientation and they seem to make no issue of it except on one condition! He might be in a relationship with someone, but he should not hold hands with him often or live this relationship openly in front of others.
“Be yourself but do not be camp about it.” This sentence is uttered in a place which seems from where we look to be a free European country. Isn’t this interesting? Even there, people have to abide by certain conditions when living their sexual orientation. This has surprised me enormously. I was very surprised to meet French, German, Spanish, or Portuguese people who cannot talk about their sexual orientation with their families or have to hide it from them all together. I think this is the best part of listening to people’s stories. One realizes that nothing is what it seems from a distance. Particularly, when village or small-town people are conservative about their judgmental patterns, many others are confined within these boxes.
In the geography of the Egyptian activist Sarah Hegazi, who was tortured for raising the LGBTI flag at a concert and said “I forgive you, the world” before committing suicide, this experience is lived in another dimension. Of course, people in France are not killed or physically punished because of their sexual orientation as would be the case in an Islamic country. However, there are still hardships and problems awaiting this person who steps a bit outside the invisible lines that are drawn by society. Only the dimension of the struggle changes. Soil is soil everywhere; people are people everywhere.
As I ask you to talk about your familiarity with the people who share their stories with you, I would also like us to talk about how you are affected by these people and their stories.
As I listened to these stories, the major effect I felt was that I found in each of these stories something from where I come and where I want to reach. This is where our familiarity begins. We were also born in a difficult geography. We opened our eyes to a geography where we have to struggle to be a woman, Alevi, Kurdish or Armenian, trans, in short to be ourselves.
I guess not fitting in boxes and overflowing the borders as an Alevi woman who has been raised in Turkey makes it easier for me to recognize similar borders on a universal level. In the end, I can identify the mentality that accuses not the perpetrator but the woman who has been abused in Morocco, I am familiar with the perturbation of the person who is in love with a same-sex partner. These are common experiences which people in the geography where I was born also go through.
Those who pit people who are living like siblings against each other in order to pursue their own interests are familiar to us. I am familiar with the Indians and Pakistanis who cook the same curry flavored food in their kitchens and sit at the same tables in different houses but who get into a fight as soon as they move into social or political spheres. These are stories which do not seem so strange to us.
These are the stories of the stuffed vine leaves consumed together with tzatziki in Greek kitchens just across the sea. The raki we drink is common, the only difference is that the table is set on the other side of the water. The water in between in a way functions as a mirror. Whatever continent it comes from, this is the common story of us who were born in the same place but grow up as separate people.
I know from my own geography the racism and “go to your home” discourse that someone from Brazil who speaks Portuguese with a different accent faces in Portugal.
Therefore, I am familiar with the struggle to free oneself from this society, and that is where I meet with others. As I listen to their stories, I realize that we are not alone. I see all those points that are common to us not only as individuals but also as societies. The similarity of those invisible lines and borders amaze me. When I listen to these stories, I connect to them. And then I make them a part of my own story. This is how we multiply.
I want to particularly emphasize T. A.’s story. T. A. swims for 9. 5 hours to reach Greece from Turkey. All T. A. wants is freedom. This is one of our biggest troubles. We lose too many people on the way. Living in a state of homelessness and limitlessness…
The first question I asked T. A. was “How come this can be possible?” “How come a person can take the risk of swimming from one country to another one?” T. A. replied very calmly saying “What seems to be the most difficult to a person, may be the easiest way.” Think about the kind of choice this person was forced to make. T. A. reached the destination point with resolution and with the belief that it was not by swimming against the waves but by collaborating with them that his journey would be successful. T. A. left for freedom and left us with an important lesson.
We were born naked into a world separated by borders. However, we are immediately clothed with judgements; our minds are being circumscribed with barb wires. Then, we pay great prices to go over these wires. Most of the time, our hands bleed in our efforts to win our freedom, just like T. A.
And on top of everything, this is a cycle, which concerns everyone. What your parents, their grandparents or grand grandparents did binds you. We are independent neither from our past nor our future. Once we manage to break this cycle into which we are born, then things start to change.
This is the reason why I put the stories and the eyes of Cihan ﹣another one journey amongst many others which leads to freedom﹣and T.A next to each other.
All escapes start in the house. I think this is the most vital aspect of all this. Is it possible for a person to long for a home at home? Well, it is possible, because no one can call home a place where she does not feel free. Hence, it is in the house the first escape plans are made. (The home mentioned can be a material structure, family, geography or the world). This motivates people to seek a home, to search for those places where the borders are not tyrannically drawn. Albeit it seems like an external journey, it starts with the internal questionings, and indeed, also ends there. I think that all the quests of human beings are linked to this. Whatever a person is looking for or hopes to find, is exactly whatever that person believes to be the source of freedom. Ultimately, one encounters oneself at the destination point, encounters oneself who is waiting to be remade. And that becomes the new “home” for that person. Because after all, each and every person carries their homes inside with them. After all, as Hermann Hesse said: “Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.”
Although My Kaaba is Human seems to be a portrait project, you show through the photographs and stories the common aspects of different experiences in the geographies you travel to. Together with the hardships of being a human. What are your plans from now on?
I plan to continue the project with photograph exhibitions. Currently, I have an ongoing exhibition in Marrakesh, Morocco. It seems like it will be open until the end of the year. The plans have been constantly changing due to the pandemic. I am planning to open exhibitions in Lisbon and Istanbul (and in other countries in Europe) and indeed I will have some interviews; however, it seems like I will have to postpone them on account of COVID-19 pandemic.
I already had to suspend some of my travel plans for a while due to the pandemic. I mean, we get intimate with people when we travel or communicate with them. The pandemic made this form of contact difficult. Additionally, I have a legal process which I have to finalize in Portugal. After this legal process and when the risks attached to the pandemics decrease, I am planning to hit the road once again. This time I want to head to Latin America.
Will you go on with this project? Or do you plan to continue your journey with a new one?
My aim is to include different people from different countries in this project and continue with photograph exhibitions. There are still people profiles and countries whom I want to work with for this project. I want this project to be as diverse as possible both in terms of people and countries. As it is the case, diversity is richness.
Additionally, there are countries where I want to exhibit my work. For instance, a friend from Poland who I met on the road started to translate the stories into Polish. So, we came up with an idea of a book and an exhibition in Poland. Hence, it seems like the project will expand.
By the way, the book you read is in French and includes stories of ten people. It was published in Marrakesh. What I aim at is to also publish a different version of the book with more stories of different people. I am preparing this book right now. We work with editor friends from Turkey and graphic designer friends from Argentine. The stories have already been translated by people from various countries into Portuguese, English and French. Other translations are on the way.
Therefore, what is very important for me is not only the content of the book, but the different forms of labor that are involved in the production of this book ﹣ something that squares with the spirit of the book.
The stories are published on Biamag Cumartesi every week. Although I have taken a break during the pandemic, new stories will be published soon. Additionally, those interested can take a look at the photographs or read the stories included in the project from the social media accounts.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan