Art meets the lives of refugee youths in a series of photographs that went on public display on Wednesday in İstanbul, at the Depo exhibition space in Tophane.
Titled “Learning to walk, over again…” and running until Nov. 29, the exhibition showcases pictures taken in refugee camps in Mardin, near the Turkish-Syrian border, by İstanbul-based photographer Enis Yücel.
The exhibition, which offers a chance to take a closer look at how kids and young adults are attempting to shake off the trauma of war and loss living in the stark conditions of refugee camps, is the byproduct of the “Cultural Relief Program,” aimed at young refugees from various cultural backgrounds, conducted by Goethe-Institut İstanbul in those refugee camps.
The institute arranges projects for refugees in İstanbul and Mardin, with the purposes of education -- primarily aimed at improving language skills -- and trauma therapy -- though art, dance and music. Yücel's photos capture groups of Syrian and Iraqi children as they take part in various creative workshops and in social and educational activities as part of the program.
The activities are designed with an approach to “trauma therapy” techniques, the institute said in a press release announcing the exhibition. The program conducted in the Nusaybin refugee camp aimed to use art, music and dance as tools for kids to recover from the traumatic effects of war.
Yücel's series, while documenting the motivation and enthusiasm of the youths as they take part in the program's activities, also aims to serve as a silent bridge that connects exhibition goers with refugees through an unspoken dialogue.
“I never set out with the idea to create an artwork while taking photos,” Yücel says about his work. “What I do is to try and become aware of, and to see, and to capture those moments in time that are about humanity,” he is quoted in Wednesday's press release.
“[While shooting] I count on my instincts and my intuitions, because I believe for a photographer to become aware of a moment in time that says something about humanity, that photographer has to have a sense of humanity in the first place.
“Throughout the time that I spent together with those refugee kids, I focused first and foremost on my own senses and my emotions. Technical matters, like which photography equipment I needed to use to shoot a certain photo, were always of secondary importance.
“I believe that the mutual [bond I established with those kids] has helped me to produce a set of powerful and successful photographs, perhaps not technically or artistically, but with regard to meaning and emotion,” Yücel says.
“Enis Yücel's ‘Learning to walk, over again…' does not only document our various artistic and … pedagogical projects in our ‘Cultural Relief Program',” says Dr. Christian Lüffe, the director of Goethe-Institut Istanbul, about the exhibition.
“It first and foremost bears the sensitive and artistic signature of a great photographer.”