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What are the genealogies of performance art in North Africa and the Middle East?

Nezakat Ekici
28 May 2015

To avoid misunderstanding, I write from the perspective of Turkey because I can't really speak for North Africa nor for the Middle East in general.



Performance art is understood differently in Turkey. In my opinion, performance art is more understood as theatre, dance and music performance. This may derive from the fact that in Turkey performance art (as I understand it from visual art) is not developed like in other western countries.



In general there are few performance artists in Turkey or artists related to Turkey like me. Few artists work only with live performance. I think I can say  that I present worldwide, more or less, only through live performances. The documentation of live performance is the same as in other countries – through video, photography, memories and relicts. Of course, in the art history of Turkey it is possible to find a relation to performance art. Beral Madra, for me, is the most important curator for contemporary art, producing very detailed genealogies of performance art in Turkey from the 1920s until now.



For me, performance art is primarily a practical space and an inherently intuitive way of understanding our current world.



First of all the live performance is most important in performance art, but with regards to documentation of course video is more important than video stills and photographs. A video is capable of capturing the idea of a performance and conserving it for broader audience. For example, I worked on this question explicitly in my first big solo exhibition in 2011–2012 at Museum Marta Herford in Germany, where I tried to explain the issue by presenting live performance with documentation.



The gender topic becomes more and more present in Turkey. In recent years you hear nearly every day in the press that women have become victims of sexual violence. Artists (both men and women) try to face this problem. Some artists are doing live performances or video performances around this issue.



Due to the fact that I believe 'races' can not be differentiated – there is only one human race – I can not answer the question of how race disrupts and/or affirms representations.  



The publics for performance art are, of course, those who have a general interest in art. The public for performance art will be more open to experiments, unforeseen actions and interactions than a public confronted with conventional art. The public for performance art should bring the time to follow the process and be part of this performance.



In my opinion, to be competitive a good performance needs a strong performer who is able to create a good atmosphere and tension. The space should be controlled by the performer but the artistic work should also be qualified by an aesthetic quality.



In the performance the body is a medium to transport ideas. In order to reach the public the co-genius part – the soul – needs to control the body. Therefore it is not enough to only speak about body but we must also speak about the soul. A good performance is like a spellbinding for the public.



We should not mix up activism with performance art. Of course performance art can transport political ideas as well enhance the public discussion around specified topics, but first of all performance art is about creating strong and vivid images of life, reaching out to move peoples' inner souls.



In my opinion, to repeat a performance carries no potential pitfalls because it is a challenge to show this particular work in different spaces and to different publics around the world. The performance can never be the same, even if it looks similar.


I myself can say that I repeat performances and am always happy to see that the outcome of the performance is always different due to culture, mentality, traditions and religions. From the perspective of the performer I can say that it is necessary to work out the specific points (for example the architecture of a space) to give situated or site-specific performances.



Performance art can happen everywhere and is not bound to special places or occasions. Whenever a performance occurs there is a special reason for it. In my opinion, a performance always has to reflect the essence of a place, time and culture.

Nezakat Ekici

was born in 1970 in Kirşehir, Turkey. She has lived in Germany since she was three years old. After completing an apprenticeship as a printer, she completed her Degree in MA Art Pedagogy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and at the same time studied at the Academy of Fine Arts on sculpture. From 2001–2004 she studied performance art with Professor Marina Abramovic at The Braunschweig University of Art (HBK) and received her Degree in Fine Arts and MFA. She lives and works in Berlin and Stuttgart. Her work includes mainly performance, video and installation. She has presented more than 120 different performances in over 30 countries, more than 100 cities on four continents.

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