I was born the first son of a farmer and a housewife, in the village of Gördük in Diyarbakir province. Being born in the year 1987, I grew up ignorant to the fact that my mother not working had not been a deliberate choice. During that time we did not see any female teachers, pharmacists, civil servants, or in other words, mothers who had a steady income of their own. But what my mother did was to fight tooth and nail so I could get a proper education. I say fought, because our social environment did not care if the male child of the family went to school. Having an opinion, nurturing a talent, or leading a fulfilling life was not held in the same high esteem as herding sheep, or later, getting to know the intricacies of the farmer’s life. I was lucky that my mother did not see this as a life suitable for me.
Having no prior spoken or written understanding of the official Turkish language taught at school, I was sent to the one-classroom school of our village, which every kid in the village had to attend. With no proper grasp of the language, I spent my days at class daydreaming and killing time until our family moved to the city center of Diyarbakir. A move that was necessitated because of my family’s heritage, our village’s location, and the ongoing tension between the state and the population of the area we were living in. But my new neighborhood and school did not help me at all: I had spent years in a household where Turkish had not been spoken and been enrolled in an educational system that had seen Turkish as a prerequisite, not a foreign language to be taught. So I again changed school until finally I grasped the basics of the language while playing on the streets; this helping me to finish primary and secondary school, albeit later than my peers. To say the truth, I was just one of those many boys who had to shave each morning before attending classes at secondary school and I was certainly not the only kid around doing this.
In life, everyone has a favorite or feared teacher recalled even after decades. I cannot say if I fully embraced or detested a specific teacher, but in secondary school, I had one who would teach us painting, using crayons to doodle national holiday themed drawings. What made him different was that he would bring his own unfinished oil paintings to class to work on them and that turned out to be lucky stroke for me. I was drawn to his drawings, the paint, the colors, the canvas. So I made my own wooden frame, took a canvas fabric and went to his side. I can say that I properly started painting after I learned how to stretch the canvas over the frame in his class.
I was then accepted into the fine arts high school but my father did not want me to go. Forget art, in light of my gender and our social environment, even getting a normal education was seen as unnecessary. The only reason I was allowed to study was that I had won my admission and subsequently graduated with honors from all schools I enrolled in. The reason I am mentioning this is that right now I do not have any opportunity left to continue studying art or getting a formal teacher’s training at the university. If you come from a part of the country where you are only offered the chance to be a seasonal construction worker or farmhand, then the idea of studying art, or even becoming a teacher at school, might sound too far-stretched to your father. I insisted and my mother continued to support me so I could get a proper education.
Reflecting on the fact that I started working by selling chocolate bars at the bus terminal when I was seven years old, I believed that the path for not being dragged away from painting was to obtain a formal training in this department, irrelevant if I would get posted to a teaching position or not. I believe that having had to work uninterrupted since I was a child and having to socialize with people on the street has given me the courage to face financial hardships and the ability to communicate with people, despite having spent a childhood unable to express myself properly.
Being from the eastern part of the country, I experienced firsthand the reactions my accent or my lack of grammar would evoke in people, both during my university years and the time I spent in Istanbul. The hurdles I had to climb, the reactions I faced during ID checks, I overcame them thanks to the feeling of hope and love emanating whenever I thought of the pure human essence. Painting what I had experienced, my observations, my emotions, my fears, my hopes, expressing myself without words and without being subject to prejudices.
The competition I won during my senior year at university helped me gain my voice without the use of words, without being subjected to prejudices, by using my very own accent and vocabulary.