Wonderland is a 4-minute video where Muhammed, a mute 13-year old boy tells the story of his experiences of the war and how he escaped the war. Without words but with gestures, facial expressions and his whole body, he narrates the atrocities that the ISIS militias committed against members of his family and neighbours during the siege of Kobanî, the hometown of Muhammed. The Syrian city of Kobanî, in Southwestern Kurdistan, became a centre of attention in the global news because of the 107 days-long resistance against disproportionately heavy attacks of ISIS that started in September 2014.
In the video, Muhammed articulates for the camera with grand energy and clarity his traumatic experience, and despite the unusual way he narrates these events, his storytelling highlights the obvious ineffability of what he went through. His story leaves us alone with the knowledge of our own limitations. That even with all our senses, we are unable to fully comprehend the experiences of others. As viewers, we can only wonder at the story told by Muhammed, imagine or attempt to visualize, but most of us will still lack the needed references to arrive close to an accurate image. This is precisely what Erkan Özgen’s video points at: the impossibility of representing human suffering of this magnitude, especially to those for whom these experiences are resolutely foreign.
Muhammed story defies description in any language other than his own. It is imbued with the vitality of the survivor, it does not point to an end but a continuation, perhaps even a new hopeful beginning. This is what the title Wonderland proposes: a wonder at what might come, the wish for a more hopeful future. Or like the artist himself has asserted that “against all odds, what Muhammed tells us with his mute tongue, would motivate people to create a strong voice against wars”.
“If I were to be born again, I would melt all the tanks and weapons, and I would make musical instruments out of them”. Inspired by this quote from singer songwriter Aram Tigran, Erkan Özgen decided to collaborate with a community of veterans located near the US Marine base at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, to create a sound composition that would transform the language of war into new sounds that might allow anti war voices to be heard. These war veterans fought in and returned from Iraq, Vietnam and Syria, many suffer from the trauma of conflict and a sense of abandonment by the society they defended.
Harese, the title of the work, is an old Arabic word that means what follows. The words for ambition, passion and reverence derive from this word. Also Camels, those strong, resilient animals able to walk in the desert for three weeks without eating or getting thirsty, like to chew a type of thorn found in the desert. The sharp thorns open wounds in the mouths of the camels, they like it more when the taste of blood mixes with the salty thorn, but if not prevented, they will die from blood loss. The word for this is harese.
Erkan Özgen graduated in 2000, from the Department of Art Education at Cukurova University in Turkey. Since 1998 he has exhibited in numerous group exhibitions in many countries including Albania, Croatia, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, UK, USA, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia and Montenegro. Özgen has participated in residencies in Safe Haven, Helsinki, IASPIS, Malmö and in the Can Xalant artist exchange program at the Center for Creating and Contemporary Thought in Mataró, Barcelona. In 2008 he received the “Prix Meuly” from the Kunstmuseum Thun. He has also organized workshops in Beirut, Damascus, Diyarbakir and Enshede. Parallel to his artistic work Erkan is active in Mesopotamian Ecology Movement. Erkan Özgen lives and works in Diyarbakir.