Alize Zorlutuna, Artist – Toronto
Alize Zorlutuna is a Turkish-Canadian interdisciplinary artist, curator, and writer who employs a diverse range of media in her practice. Working with installation, video, performance, and material culture, she investigates identity, settler colonial relationships to land, culture, and history, relationships with the more-than-human, institutional critique, and solidarity. Drawing on archival as well as practice-based research, the body and its sensorial capacities are central to her work. She is one of five artists in the group exhibition interlude on display at the Art Gallery of Burlington until March 1.
I’ve been developing a relationship with sumac in my practice for the last eight years. It began when I was working on The Presence of Absence: Searching for Mendieta, a project in which I tried to find and respond to a carving made by Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta somewhere on the Scarborough bluffs in 1982. I quickly realized there is a cousin plant that Turks (and many other Middle Eastern cultures) use in cooking. This connection was like a spark. Working with sumac has become a kind of material bridge between my homelands, a way to materialize diasporic grief and longing, and the complex responsibility of living on/within occupied territories as a settler and descendent of immigrants. Over the years I have had many teachings shared with me by Indigenous artists, academics, and earth workers regarding the more-than-human-world and how to move from an ethics of care. Miigwetch, H’ychka, Mussi Cho, Nia:wen, Hihi, we’lalin. I am trying listen. I’d specifically like to thank John Johnson, Bonnie Devine, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Joce Tremblay, T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, Anne Riley, and John Aitken, who have helped shape my evolving understanding. My most important teacher has been sumac. Building a relationship with sumac has meant unlearning the many ways European epistemologies have informed my understanding of the “natural world” and my own relationship with it. It has been a slow and intimate learning process – one that parallels my evolving understanding of my responsibilities as a treaty person living on occupied lands.
Take time, a new work of mine with sumac, is in the interlude exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington.
- Carpets, kilims, and ancient Anatolian material practices
I have been researching ancient Anatolian ceramic forms as well as the symbolism employed in kilims (flat woven wool carpets found throughout central Turkey). I’m slowly developing work drawn from this record. I’m interested in tapping into ancestral modalities, engaging in a lineage of embodied knowledge connected to my ancestral roots. The symbols above are abstractions of the nazar (or evil eye), a prevalent symbol of protection in Turkey and elsewhere.
- Being an accomplice
I had the privilege of hearing Maria Hupfield in conversation with Siku Allooloo and Jaskiran Dhillon at Creative Time in 2017 for a talk entitled In Conversation: Becoming an Accomplice. This conversation shifted some tectonic plate in me, calling me to enact my values more actively. To listen, to take bigger risks, to speak out and stand in solidarity with movements, people, and values I hold dear. Where allyship often feels self-congratulatory and/or passive, being an accomplice suggests transgression. For me, it means acknowledging what you do not know or cannot understand (the things your privilege might make it impossible for you to perceive), listening to learn, embodying empathy and accountability, championing the voices you want to amplify, and using what privilege you have to work for justice. I fail all the time and am humbled in this work daily. I’m trying to listen more closely and to advocate where and when I can. As artists I think we understand something about failure as a way of learning, that you have to try something over and over again until you get it right, and, even then, it may not really do what you wanted/ hoped it would. But if we stopped making work every time we didn’t do it perfectly, we would never make anything. So we keep trying, we go back to the drawing board, often re-inventing our own wheels. I think that solidarity is something like this. You have to try, fail, try again, fail again, and then do it all over again, knowing you may never get it right. The work is never done.
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I have been teaching at OCAD University since 2015 and thinking about pedagogy takes up a lot of my time. I’m always thinking about how to teach in a way that engages young people, that doesn’t reproduce coercive, punitive strategies while working within an institutional context. I think about how to make my teaching more accessible, how to create space for agency, curiosity, and creative thinking. I want to co-create just and accountable classrooms that acknowledge my students’ diverse lived experiences while building containers for respectful dialogue across our many differences. This endeavor is in conversation with the conditions of settler-colonialism in so-called Canada, the composition of the academy, and how these structure relationships. I have witnessed how building accountability within learning environments can allow for truly transformational learning. I have also failed to enact these values many times. But I learn with each class I teach and, ultimately, teaching is about learning too. It is a dance, a process of exchange, rather than a top-down endeavor. I have as much to learn from my students as they have to learn from me. Texts I return to include: Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Land as Pedagogy. To watch as someone encounters and integrates new knowledge is something profound, and to have a hand in this process of intellectual growth is a privilege. I teach for that moment of profound encounter, discovery, and transformation.
I am named for a hot wind off the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps this is why I feel so profoundly connected to wind. It is one of my most treasured teachers. To be with the wind; to watch it move across, through, and with the land; to feel it in my body, teaches me something about softening, about release, about being in my body in a different way. Most of us are not that good at being in our bodies, especially if we’re trauma survivors. We brace ourselves – brace as a survival strategy. A legitimate and logical response to violence and/or oppression. To be with the wind, to listen to it rustle through oak leaves and white pine, to see it quiver through grass and dance across the surface of water has been profound medicine for me. Medicine that shows me, through its very nature, a way to be and feel in my body. Wind can wear down the hardest rock, transform entire landscapes without being seen. It is always moving, so how could it not move us too?