The roots of queer activism and artistic productions in Turkey go back to 1993, when a group of queer people organized an event in Istanbul called “Sexual Freedom Week” which was prohibited by the governorship. Years later, in 2003, the first pride parade was held in Istanbul, and the visibility of queer communities finally increased in both activism and the arts from 2003 to 2015.
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“I’m Antre Sex (they/them, Virgo). After I graduated, I started to explore the different perspectives and lifestyles that attracted me. I started to be around experiences that expanded my vision and I refused to work for any boring corporate agency. My work is inspired by nocturnal creatures, unconventional beauty, emo kids who listen to Tokio Hotel, and performing arts produced towards the unknown. My work is based on such things. Despite the abundance of Turkish chee kofta restaurants that are open 24 hours, there’s a lot of things I miss in Istanbul. In a place where nudity and sexuality are a taboo, there are only a few safe areas where I can express myself. This condition makes safe queer spaces more valuable. The fact that these places were completely closed during the pandemic brought trans hours to indoor places. So I began to experience the possibilities of working more comfortably indoors on my own. By producing editorial fashion photographs with my queer friends, I aim to show that norms can be broken and distorted. In this process, we are motivated by learning to create safe places and relationships and supporting each other’s visibility. The thing I feel most excited about during the production process is searching for images and concepts created in my mind on the internet and not finding any results. While trying to find the things that I love, I open up to different possibilities by letting the things that bother me attract my attention as well. I am creating without thinking about the results. I can face the eroticism, anxiety and dilemma of the unknown more easily when I’m alone in front of the laptop. In the past, expecting too much from my work was a limitation for me, now no one can stop me until electricity is gone forever.”
“There is no real discipline I adhere to. I’m not a productive person who can plan and set goals. I’m mostly influenced by meme art and Twitter. Concretizing the abstract, putting its contradictions and ambiguity into the process of consciousness to save it from didacticism explains my production process a little. What determines the political foundations and aesthetics of the queer scene in Taksim is the fact that Istanbul is a city that receives immigration, providing a transformative encounter for many people. The Lubunya movement has always considered partying, entertainment and performance as a political resistance before it was squeezed into the nightlife, in other words, this political foundation was always there. Creating accessible and safe places, opening up space for each other has been empowering for all of us. Anahit, Şahika and Dudakların Cengi created opportunities that lead the way for many Lubunyas. As one of the most vulnerable groups in times of crisis, we are losing spaces that we had barely won. We have a historical experience of finding creative ways to create our own space by becoming more autonomous each time. For a community that is thrown out of the normative sphere and living under socioeconomic violence, thinking about ways of solidarity helps to dream of another life. We experience the effects of the patriarchal capitalism with each other in much harsher ways. Everyone experiences this process differently depending on their socio-economic privileges. Of course, it is important to gain awareness and self-reflection, but in order to reflect, we have to build an ethical/ political hope that motivates us to try a non-toxic relationality—accountable, subtle, observant criticism. I love Istanbul’s queer nightlife—it plays an important part in the experience of creating other possibilities. I feel safe when I see myself in a community with such concerns. It strengthens my motivation to express myself. I find the collective effort itself more valuable than its result.”
“I’m Ceytengri and I manifest my powers through drag, social media, songwriting and tarot. I recently released my song “madilik” produced by Çiçek Çocuk and I am working on my short movie “tengrisms’’ and trying to make YouTube vlogs. I am turned on by human blood but the sight of an open wound is enough to make me sick. FOMO sometimes can keep me from fulfilling my responsibilities but knowing that no one was having fun either during the quarantine relieved me and allowed me to focus on myself. It was nice to not spend all my energy entertaining people every weekend. My favourite place where Lubunyas gather in Istanbul is Kurtuluş. It’s an oasis where transphobic harassment is reduced to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean that no one is victimized. However, it is comforting to know that if something happens to me, there will be people around to help. Maybe that’s why getting out of Kurtuluş always feels like a mental exercise. The scantiness of safe spaces used to force queer night life workers to work in bad conditions because there were no alternatives. I don’t know where we can find a safe place to work and have fun after the pandemic is over, but I have full confidence that we will find something. I rely on our adaptation and transformative powers as a community.”
“Hey! I am Kiki Cicinash 71 centimeter transvestite monster. The world’s only living art form and a nightmare that you will not survive. I am a painter, performance artist, drag queen, astrologist and beauty saboteur. For me, the pandemic had a transformative effect. My whole life has been reshaped, which was what I needed. I guess what makes the Istanbul queer scene unique is its diversity, inclusiveness and constant variability. I don’t want its inclusiveness to change. The queer scene offers the opportunity to make a living out of my art. Unfortunately, the existing stages aren’t enough to express ourselves in nightlife. The number of drags is increasing day by day, which is great. But Turkey isn’t professional yet in this fields, we are creating opportunities for change. Btw, it is very difficult not to lose your motivation in this difficult process. Of course, money is not only required to support; follow, like, comment, share, offer cooperation so we know we have been seen by someone. And let’s spread some cicinash to the world.”
“I’m Debonair Detsuki. I was the greatest chemist and perfumer queen of the universe when my Dark Moon Sultanate Detsuki shone in the sky, but as a result of a series of failures, I had to be reborn on Earth. I am currently preparing myself in many ways to make this universe grow and shine again—I get excited when I think about it. During the pandemic, there is no such thing as a stage. Now it’s more rewarding for me to create intricate looks with a backstory and just take a photo. During the first lockdown, I launched myYouTube channel “Eau de Tsuki” to educate people about perfumery. I know that the support I will get from here is very important in Detsuki’s future. Eminönü, Tahtakale is still my favorite place in the world. There is no such energy. This should be a place frequented by people who do drag. And they must get lost in the infinite number of results they can create from the variety of things sold here.”
“I’m ELZ from the house of CULT. I always do the opposite of what is expected from me and constantly expel myself from the comfort zone I set up. I am a stage clown trying to involve you by experiencing and presenting this tide in public. The pandemic affected me a lot as I took most of my inspiration from the dirty corners of the city—the rough relationships, the backstreet’s chaos. I couldn’t create anything for a while. Nothing started to excite me. I couldn’t even watch, read, or listen to anything. But the melancholy, calmness and shock of my lost freedom began to open new doors of inspiration. In the last few weeks I started to be able to produce again. I had no expectations and still don’t. Istanbul’s queer scene is like a small family in a huge, very crowded place. Especially as queer creators, it’s much easier for us to communicate with each other or to work and produce together. I couldn’t see that so much when I went to different countries and cities, as everything felt more disconnected and more individual compared to Istanbul. I can count “Lubunca” among our treasures, it’s a safe language we can use among us. [Lubunca is a secret Turkish queer slang.] I am not 100% sure where the queer capital of Istanbul is. It seems like Şişli to me, but this is an assumption I have made based on my own experience. In the past I could definitely say Beyoğlu but now things like the closing of most places in Beyoğlu, the destruction of Tarlabaşı, or leaving Ömer Hayyam to neglect and indifference, led many Lubunyas to Şişli. At least that’s how I see it. But these places are not enough. In fact, things are getting worse with the pandemic. I was being ridiculed everywhere I went when I first started performing. When I first entered the scene, there was nobody doing what we did in Istanbul for underground music: expressing oneself with extravagant costumes, makeup and stage decorations. There was always the issue of being despised and pushed aside, or not being taken seriously. I attempted to open my own space, so that we could express ourselves. The series of events I organized such as Night of the Wicked, GOTHRAVE or Pragmata were all about this. As soon as we go back to nightlife, I want to add new ones to these series. I miss them.
MAKE A SCENE. SCREAM. BE EXTRA. LIVE YOUR FANTASY. SHUT THEM UP. LET THEM SEE.”