#occupygezi: Art of the Gezi Movement

This was a small article first published in the V&A’s poster blog in June 16, 2013, when the Gezi protests were still in progress. This online article, which was later on published in print for the August 2013 issue of Creative Review, aimed to present a quick look at the wonderful creative production we have experienced during the extraordinary times of Gezi. Here is the article as it was published online back in June 2013 with minor edits:

A photo taken from Istiklal Street during the protests.

A photo from Istiklal Street during the Gezi resistance.

Occupy Gezi is a movement that started in Istanbul in order to preserve one of the very few green areas left in central Istanbul, which then turned into a group of massive, nation-wide anti-government protests. The protests which began by the occupy movement in Istanbul, spread to other cities such as the capital Ankara, and Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, and they ignited a flurry of creative production that resulted in a variety of posters, banners and street art. The visual material created in the ethos of the protests are striking images that capture the nature of the protests.

Twitter was officially labeled as a “troublemaker” by the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan after the start of the protests as it was instrumental in distributing information for the protestors in a time when the traditional media practiced self-censorship.

Two stencils from the protests - the twitter bird and the media penguin

Two stencils from the protests – the twitter bird and the media penguin

The Twitter bird wearing a gas mask is displayed in a stencil along with the most famous hashtag of the Gezi protests, #occupygezi (above left). The gas mask, which has now become an everyday object for the Turkish protestors, is a reference to the enormous amount of teargas used by the police.

On the other hand, the stencil of a defiant penguin who also wears a gas mask symbolises the media corruption in Turkey (above right). Penguins are now associated with the self-censorship of the mainstream Turkish media after CNN Turk, a major news channel, broadcasted a documentary on penguins while the protests and the police violence were at their peak – instead of covering what was happening on the streets.

Mr. Officer, You Dropped Something!

Mr. Officer, You Dropped Something!

Turkish police has been harshly criticised due to the use of unprecedented amount of tear gas as well as the police violence witnessed during the protests. Yet, among the images that are circulated in the social media which support the protestors and criticise the government or the police, humour dominates. The digital poster above reads “Mr. Officer You Dropped Something”, in front of a blurred photo in which an activist is throwing back an active tear gas canister back at the riot police.

Two posters featuring the portraits of Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister at the time of the protests.

Two posters featuring the portraits of Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister at the time of the protests.

The ‘street-art’ above left plays with the image of Sex Pistols’ iconic album cover, by inserting the portrait of the Turkish Prime Minister in place of the Queen’s. The word ‘Queen’, is changed to ‘Sultan’, a reference to the absolute monarchs of the Ottoman Empire, the ruling state of Turkey before the modern Republic. It is also a testament of the international legacy of Punk and its relevance today in the midst of public rebellion.

The digital poster above right uses Prime Minister Erdogan’s portait by the photographer Platon in the background and displays the phrase “Keep Calm And Be Çapulcu.” Prime Minister had used the word çapulcu–which means a looter–to describe the activists after the protests grew in magnitude in May 31, 2013. The word çapulcu was quickly adopted by the protestors who started to define themselves as çapulcu. This has a humorous irony because the protestors did not see themselves as looters since the dominant majority of them were well educated urban middle class people who abstained from looting and other acts of vandalism.

The images above are also reflective of the globalism today, since they refer to international icons to convey their messages.

As the Gezi protests developed, artists, designers and other creatives quickly responded to the photographs circulated especially in the social media. Some of these images now enjoy an iconic status since they have been used over and over in different media.

Framing the injustice - the girl in red.

Framing the injustice – the girl in red.

The image of a policeman blowing pepper spray on a girl in red (above left), rapidly became one of the most recognised symbols of the protests and was transposed to the city walls, streets and roads with stencils. The girl in red in the stencil image (above right) is considerably larger than the police as it symbolizes the growth of the resistance as the police violence got rougher.

A stencil referring to a phrase attributed to Rumi and a performance artist performing in the style of the whirling dervishes.

The image of a performance artist wearing a dervish robe and a gas mask, who performed in the occupied Gezi Park (above right) was also taken up by street artists. The phrase “Come along!” was added in the stencil. “Come along” is a reference to a stanza attributed to Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, whose followers had founded the Mevlevi Order. Although the stanza is dated to 13th century, it still makes a very powerful and moving statement in the context of the Occupy Gezi movement as it was a social movement which included people from all walks of life:

Come, come, whoever you are, come again.

Whether heathen, zoroastrian or idolatrous, come again,

Ours is not a caravan of despair,

Come again, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.


Girl in black

The girl in black getting hit by the water of TOMA cannon.

Another image which rose to prominence during the protests was the girl who stood in front of a police water cannon opening her arms, exposing her torso (above). Her image became a symbol of non-violent resistance against police force and is displayed on a variety of printed or digital posters about the protests. Below are two digital posters created to be used in the social media. The phrase written with a hashtag in the posters below, “Diren Gezi Parki” means “Gezi Park Resist” which has been one of the most popular hashtags of the Occupy Gezi movement.


Symbols of resistance on social media through graphic design

Symbols of resistance on social media through graphic design

The colourful and playful yet simple graphic design below, which states the demands of the protestors, reflects the youthful energy of the activists. The design is clean: each demand is symbolised by a single visual; with distinct background colours; and specific words of each demand is emphasised by an increase in font size of certain words which helps to convey the message clearly by avoiding a boring wall of text.

A beautiful graphic design, listing the demands of the protestors.

A beautiful graphic design, listing the demands of the protestors.

Considering that these images, which are only a handful among many, are a result of the past 15 days (since the protests began), there is going to be a lot more as the protests and the occupy movement continue. Whatever the outcome of these events, it is certain that the artists, designers and activists have responded rapidly, with a highly creative and humorous body of works to the Occupy Gezi movement which will definitely have a rich visual legacy for the generations to come.


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