7 mo

Esra Gülmen: Difficult Questions

Esra Gülmen is a Turkish visual artist and designer based in Berlin. She has won many international awards and has been successively selected as one of the ‘200 Best Illustrators Worldwide’ by Lürzer’s Archive Magazine. For Esra, art is a form of self-therapy, and her artworks revolve around human psychology and the tiny struggles of everyday life. She has had solo exhibitions in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Berlin and participated in numerous other group shows.

Pictoplasma: How do you identify as an artist?

Esra Gülmen: On my business card, it used to say: Visual Artist, Designer, Design Executive, blah blah ... but it should've actually said: Over-Thinker, Perfectionist, Obsessive, Melancholic, with terrible anxiety issues, but free-spirited ...

A couple of years ago, I went to one of the best psychologists in Istanbul, and I said, “Pills, therapy, whatever. Give them to me.” But he said, “No, you just have an artist’s soul.” I started to accept this situation, these feelings, and I started to see my art as a form of self-therapy.

How would you describe your style?

My art and illustration style evolved around my design approach, which is bold, direct and simple.

Your mother tongue is Turkish. Is it a curse or a blessing to work mainly with the English language?

English is a really beautiful language for playing with words, and because it’s not my mother tongue, I can keep it really simple. I also started using German, and again, I have to keep it simple because my German is so bad. I am always trying to keep things simple and direct – in my own language, I would make everything much more complicated. I think that working in a foreign language is a good trick, in this sense.

How have you dealt with people’s perceptions of you?

Whenever I’d say I’m from Turkey, the first reaction I’d get was, “Ah, but you don’t look Turkish.” At first, I took it as a compliment, but I soon realised it isn’t a compliment, it’s a little bit racist. But I am not the only one – many friends of mine get told, “You don’t look Turkish.” Once, I saw a meme that said; “They say I don’t look Turkish. Should I look like a döner kebab or what?”

“I always try to play with clichés.“

Sometimes I am too naïve about people. To be honest, I don’t always assume people are asking these questions in a racist way; sometimes its just out of curiosity, in a possibly ignorant way. We all just do it. We ask questions.… I’m the same, I can also ask someone from Iran or Belgium stupid questions if I have no idea about their culture. But sometimes, it is a bit too much. If you get asked the same question all the time, you just want to do something about it. I always try to play with clichés, so for me, being told I ‘don’t look Turkish’ is just cliché. It’s just stupid. I found it boring rather than hurtful. But I’m also always making ‘Turkish jokes’, with Turkish friends or German friends. I also like this dark humour. So, I’m not really super-sensitive, to be honest. But we people, we should be a little bit careful. For many of us, we’ve only recently started paying more attention to stereotypes and questioning the questions we’re asking.

Interview by Pictoplasma published in Pictoplasma Magazin – Issue 2: Character Care, 2022

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