Esra Ersen

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emigration, exile, identity, language, living, loneliness, longing, marginalisation, migration, modernity, outsider, people, politics, transition
Visual Arts (installation art, mixed media, participation art, performance)
Europe, Western, Europe, Nordic, Europe, Western, Europe, Nordic, America, North
Germany, England (UK), Sweden, Austria, Denmark, United States of America
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February 21, 2006
last changed on:
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Esra Ersen


Esra Ersen

Esra Ersen is a Turkish artist born in Ankara in 1970 and currently living and working in Istanbul. Central to her works are the themes of identity, migration and aspiration. Whether using film, photography, installation or situational activity, Ersen consistently explores the relationship between the individual and society, with an eye to how the various factors involved in this (such as ethnicity, education, and culture) can bind or divide communities.
A peripatetic character, Ersen has lived and exhibited in many different countries around the world (in particular, Sweden and Germany), with her modus operandi being to produce work in direct response to each location that then serves to explore aspects of her wider concerns. Naturally drawn to the marginalized and downtrodden, such a process of transience often brings Ersen into contact with the poor migrant communities that have provided the stimuli for many of her works.

A prime example of this is her video installation ‘If You Could Speak Swedish’ (2001): commissioned for Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, the piece features the migrant / asylum-seeker students of a Swedish language course individually reading a statement that they had written (about any subject of their choosing; sometimes political, sometimes personal) both in their native tongue (including Arabic, Bengali, Chinese and Russian) and in their hesitant and uncertain Swedish; the contrast between the two versions highlights the vulnerable position that the migrant finds themselves in during the first stages of integration, suddenly unable to communicate with or express themselves to the wider community (added to the effect on self-respect and, more practically, the limited prospects for employment that poor language skills bring). Based upon an understanding of how language fundamentally determines the structure of both personal and social identity, this piece shows how the individual gauges their sense of self through interaction with others, and just how fragile such a construct can be.

Paralleling these themes, Ersen’s social experiment ‘Parachutist in Third Floor, Birds in Laundry’ (2005) involved the residents of the “foreign quarter” of Holma painting their visions of the foreseeable future on the walls of their surrounding estate. Based upon research into the changing population structure of Sweden due to migration, the resulting work illustrates the paradigm shifts that occur with the assimilation of new communities: the romantic, nostalgia tinged paintings of the remaining Swedish families contrasting against the aspirations (and growing presence) of the newcomers vision.

Inevitably, Ersen’s Turkish heritage informs much of her art. Spanning two continents, Turkey is both the actual and symbolic meeting point between East and West, a factor that has created an ambiguous national identity. This theme is explored explicitly in her piece ‘Schlucht’ which, through reference to the urban development of Istanbul, reflects upon the diverse cultural elements that compose that city’s multifaceted personality. This historic significance can also be seen in the film ‘Hello where is it?’ (2000) which takes the crossing of the Bosporus bridge as its symbolically loaded motif.

One of the keenest examples of Turkey’s psycho-geographical influence upon Ersen can be seen in her piece ‘Brothers and Sisters’ (2003), which takes the plight of illegal African immigrants stranded in Turkey as a microcosm of her themes. Assuming the role of social anthropologist, Ersen spent six months working with such a group; suspended in limbo between Europe and Africa, unwanted by either, the film documents how these displaced people clung to one identity in search of another, only to assume a new, unintended identity through the common experience of their struggles, hopes and despairs.

Other works have included the video installation ‘In the Penalty Area’ (2001), which addresses the ambivalent relationship between Turkish migrants and their German hosts; and ‘Statement’ (2003), an interactive project with inmates of the Graz-Karlau prison in Austria (notably, the area around the prison is marked by the presence of its red-light district and immigrant population). The former piece demonstrates how migrant communities can find cultural strength through such levellers as sport (in this instance, Galatsaray’s winning of the 2000 UEFA cup), and perhaps also in a selective curation of their heritage, responsive to their new circumstances (how far they can / will assimilate). The latter work takes Ersen’s concern for the disenfranchised to a logical conclusion; by taking the uncensored statements of prisoners and presenting them upon the architecture of their confinement, she characteristically uses her art to give voice to those left inarticulate through displacement and alienation.

Esra Ersen lives and works in Istanbul. She is currently exhibiting at the Frankfurter kunstverein e.v. in Germany and has just completed a show at the National Museum of Modern Art in Romania. Furthermore, the OK Centrum für Gegenwartskunst in Austria recently held a retrospective of her work produced from 1998 to 2005. She has also gained attention with work shown at ZKM Karlsruhe, Casino Luxembourg, Rooseum Malmö, Galerie für Zeitgenossische Kunst Leipzig and the 8th Biennale Istanbul.
Author: Cate Rickards


Born in Ankara 1970.
Lives and works in Istanbul.
1999/00 Ecole Beauxs-Arts de Nantes, Post-Diplom Program, Nantes, France
1992/95 Marmara University The Faculty of Fine Arts, Post Graduate, Istanbul, Turkey
1988/92 Marmara University The Faculty of Fine Arts, Istanbul, Turkey



2006 Liverpool Biennial , Liverpool (upcoming) 27th Sao Paulo Biennale, Sao Paulo (upcoming) Cooling out, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Ireland, (upcoming) Cooling out, Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz/Basel, Switzerland (upcoming) Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Ludwigsburg, Germany MRKS & SPNCR, Delfina Trust Gallery, London, England It Is Hard To Touch The Real, Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria The Peninsula, Singapore History Museum, Singapore 2005 P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA euroPART. Public art project throughout Austria, Austria Rundlederwelten, Martin Groupius Bau, Berlin, Germany EindhovenIstanbul, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands Pursuit of Happiness, Utrecht, The Netherlands Moving..on…, NGBK, Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, Germany Sous les ponts, le long de la riviere…2, Casino Luxembourg, Luxemburg 2052 Malmo no Longer be Swedish, Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö, Sweden Normalization, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul, Turkey A forest and a tree, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Yellow Bird Gallery, New York, USA Other, Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand, Norway Der Knochen der Zunge, Medienturm, Graz, Austria Xenopolis, RathausGalerie, München, Germany Hilchot Shchenim Chapter C, Israeli Digital Art Lab Holon, Israel It´s Hard to Touch the Real, Yeans Göteborg, Sweden 2004 Coalesce, Model Arts & Niland Gallery, Sligo, Ireland Effort, Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea, San Sebastián, Spain Minority Report: Challenging Intolerance in Contemporary Denmark, Aarhus, Continental Breakfast, Belgrade Cultural Centre, Serbia and Montenegro Re:Location Casino Luxembourg-Forum d’art Contemporain, Luxembourg Swedish Heart, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (EA)Stories, K&S Galerie, Berlin, Germany Borderline, kino arsenal, Berlin, Germany Shake Society, Casino Luxembourg-Forum d’art Contemporain, Luxembourg Exciting Europe, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig, Germany Trading Places, The Pump House Gallery, London, UK Green Box, Trafo gallery, Budapest, Hungary Along the Gates of the Urban, Galerie K & S, Berlin, Germany Call me Istanbul, ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany Arte Fierra, Bollogna, Italy Revolution is Not What it Used to Be, S1 Artspace , Sheffield, UK 2003 Poetic Juctice, 8th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey The way of the ideas, Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain 10th Biennial of Moving Images, The Centre for Contemporary Images Saint Gervais, Swiss In the gorges of the Balkans, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany Where? Here? , The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan How Latitudes Become Forms, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy Real Utopia, ,Graz Culture Capital of Europe, Graz, Austria Totally Motivated, Kunstverein München, Münich, Germany It Is Hard To Touch The Real, Kunstverein München, Münich, Germany Here, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul, Turkey How Latitudes Become Forms, Walker Art Center, Minnepolis, USA 2002 Manifesta 4, Europan Biennial of Contemporary art, Frankfurt, Germany Pause, 4 th Kwangju Biennial, Kwangju, Korea What? A tale in free images, Memling Museum, Burgge, Belgium Animation:Video, Centre d´édition contemporaine,Genève, Swiss In Search for Balkania, Neue Galerie, Graz, Austria City of Women, Ljubljana, Slovenia Art and Documentary, TEMPO Documentary Festival, Stockholm, Sweden On my way to Timbuktoo, ifa Galerie Berlin, Bonn, Germany 2001 Under the Sign of the City, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, Germany Becoming a Place, P4L Istanbul Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul, Turkey Dare to be different, organized by Cultural Art Center Lind Art, Fier, Albanian Standardrum, Randers Kunstmuseum, Randers, Denmark 2000 Divine Comedy, Galerie Urart, Istanbul, Turkey Between Condition and Construction, ifu-open space, Hannover, Germany Showview, Galerie 5020, Salzburg, Austria Activ-Reactiv, Lieu Unique, Nantes, France MK2 projekt cafee, video program, Paris, France International Boutique, Galery Lafeyett, Nantes, France SansSousi, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany Spring Time, Nicolaj Contemporary Art Center, Cophenagen, Denmark One night stand, Klemens Gasner & Tanja Grunert, New York, USA 1999 Mode of Art, Düsseldorf Kunstverein, Düsseldorf , Germany Relation with an Other, Galellery Emsdetten, Emsdetten, Germany Society and Communitiy, ACC Gallery,Weimar, Germany 1998 Art Hansa Special, Hansa Gymnasium, Köln, Germany Interfaces, Paleantologisches Museum, Münster, Germany Dialogues-art in scools, Real Schule Velen, Münsterland, Germany 1996 Dialogues/the lost idea of the oder of things, AKM, Istanbul, Turkey Dialogues/the lost idea of the oder of things Kunstpalast im Ehrenhof, Düsseldorf A Ding Table, BM Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul, Turkey 1995 Orient/ation, 4 th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey 16th. Istanbul Exhibition, Paintig and Sculpture Museum, Istanbul, Turkey Borders and Beyond, TUYAP, Istanbul, Turkey 1994 15th Istanbul Exhibition, Paintig and Sculpture Museum, Istanbul, Turkey Hope and Responsibilitiy, Ship of City Lines, Istanbul, Turkey 1993 14th Istanbul Exhibition, Paintig and Sculpture Museum, Istanbul, Turkey


2006 Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany 2005 The O.K Center for Contemporary Art, Linz, Austria 2002 Bild Museet, Umea, Sweden 2001 ´If You Could Speak Swedisch´, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden 1999 Bettina, Susanne, Esra, Schloss Wiepersdorf, Brandenburg, Germany 1997 Macka Sanat Galerisi, Istanbul, Turkey 1995 ´Diologues´, Yerebatan Cisterne, BM Contemporary Art, Istanbul, Turkey


Selected Grants and Residencies:

2005-2006 Visiting Arts/Delfina International Fellowship Programme, London, UK
2004 Casino Luxembourg-Forum d’art Contemporain, Luxembourg
Rooseum Center For Contemporary Art, Malmö, Sweden
2001 IASPIS, Stockholm, Sweden
1999-2000 Ecole Beauxs-Arts de Nantes,Post-Diplom Program, Nantes, France
1999 Stiftung Kulturfonds, Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf, Brandenburg, Germany
1998 NRW-fondation, Künstlerdorf Schoppingen, Münsterland, Germany
ACC Gallery and Stadt Weimar, Weimar, Germany


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

International 06

Liverpool Biennial

(16 September 06 - 26 November 06)
I am Turk, I am Diligent, I am Honest
In the Penalty Area