Where to find me

You may have realised that I don't blog that often on this website. The reason is very simple: my work is scattered a bit everywhere online. I am very active on social media, and lots of my thoughts and processes are documented on my Facebook and Instagram pages. I am also on Snapchat (as ayserin), doing some silly stuff - isn't it what Snapchat is about? And you can find me daily on Twitter (@ayserin) as well, where I share recent info about my activities but mostly content I find interesting. I also have a Medium page where I publish writings on arts and culture. And last but not least, I am making videos on YouTube, mostly in French, in which I try to explore certain themes especially around literature and translation. 

I also continue my work on City in Translation and Meydan | La Place, two of my personal projects around literature and translation - which are very dear to my heart. 

Next to my own pages and projects, I write for a variety of online and offline media. For a complete list, see my writings page. I am also regularly invited to speak and participate to various events or give workshops, if you're interested all dates are in my calendar (overview listed below).

And sometimes I go chill near the flamingos living in my neighbourhood. 

I hope to see you in these different places!


My YouTube Channel

I have recently started making videos - quite simple and focused on literature mostly, but also filming exhibitions, trying to tell a "docu" style story through this exciting medium. At the moment, I am working in French because of the fantastic community that has started building around François Bon's work on his channel.

I am currently in exploration mode, trying to understand why I sometimes prefer to use video than writing, like with this video about the exhibition Colonial War at the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. 

I may start working in English, but for now, I feel a lot more comfortable talking to this community of writers and translators I know and I feel safe with, in French. 

Do have a look:

Using Medium

Photo by Erinc Salor.

Photo by Erinc Salor.

I've started using Medium and I am very curious of what it will bring me, especially in terms of exchange and reach. I really enjoy browsing and exploring the space myself and there are lots of good articles published, so I hope I can bring my contribution to that large community. 

In my first piece, Watching Birds in a Suffocating City, I wrote about people’s struggle to save Istanbul’s green spaces, featuring Murathan Varol's 3-min film "Portraits from Istanbul: The Birder" telling the poignant story of Akdoğan Uzkan, a birder from Istanbul.

Enjoy the read!

Winter Promenade, continued

I love walking. The winter sun makes my walks even more enjoyable, especially in my neighbourhood of Amsterdam. A few weeks ago, I captured some moments at de Hortus , today, I went to another favourite place of mine: the Artis Zoo. It was a sad visit though, as I learned the death of Mumba, the zoo's baby elephant that I deeply loved. Everybody loved her. She was born on 18 June 2011. I saw her on the 20th, when she was only two days old. Since that day, each time I visited the zoo, I went to see her. I have introduced all my beloved friends and family members to Mumba. She was part of my life. I couldn't help but cry her death. She was four years old. Now, I am not sure how I will tell my 6-year old niece that Mumba died. Every time she visits me from Brussels, we go say hello to Mumba.

All these pictures, I took before learning about Mumba's death. Afterwards, I couldn't take any more pictures. It will take me some time before I can go back to the zoo, but I will go back, eventually.

Winter Promenade

de Hortus, Amsterdam's Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places in the city. Today I spent some time walking between the plants, feeling as if I was traveling in many different geographies. Hortus is truly an inspiring place. Here are some moments I captured (click on the images to start viewing the gallery). 

All photos by Canan Marasligil. 

Secret Love: Sexual Diversity in China

Exhibition poster. Photo by Yang Guowei. 

I've been to see Secret Love, a very interesting contemporary art exhibition at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam (on show until 8 May 2016). Through 45 works by 10 renowned Chinese artists such as Ma Liuming, Gao Brothers, Li Xiaofeng and Chi Peng, the exhibition explores subjects such as sexuality, desire and taboo, emphasising in particular the artists’ commitment to creating change. The focus of the exhibition is especially about taboos surrounding lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender (LGBTs) identities in China. 

Originally curated by the National Museums of World Culture in Sweden, Secret Love asks "How do positive changes towards sexual diversity in China affect LGBTs?"

We have done extensive research in preparation for this exhibition. This is something that nobody has done before. You could say that this exhibition is a new chapter in Chinese artistic history.
— Si Han, Exhibition Curator

Photography by Chi Peng

The introduction to the exhibition explains that Chinese society has been experiencing rapid changes, resulting in shifting views on sexuality and identity. This change has been particularly evident when it comes to LGBTQ people. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997 and is since 2001 no longer regarded as a mental illness. But (as in many other societies, including in the Western world, I have to add) many taboos remain. The internet and a more open society have brought greater awareness of individual rights.

The stories of the artists presented in Secret Love are very moving and offer a deep perspective on the many emotional levels and complexities of LGBTQ people in China. 

Left: video by Cheng Juanzi & Song Jianing. Right: video by Fan Popo

I have particularly been moved by Xiyadie's paper cuttings, an artist from a small village in the northern Shaanxi province, living and working in Bejing. Xiyadie learnt cutting from his mother. During his years in the village, he felt great mental pressure and had no one to unburden his heart to; for him, paper cutting became a way of expressing his pain and his joy.

I knew I liked men from an early age, but in the country, it’s completely unthinkable to come out as gay, it’s even seen as criminal.
— Xiyadie

Like so many other gay Chinese of his age (Xiyadie was born in 1963), he is married. He has two children in their 20s. His oldest son has been disabled since birth and cannot manage on his own. According to sociological studies, some 90% of all gay men in China are married. In Confucian tradition, there are three types of lack of filial respect, and the worst is not to provide for the family line's continuation. It is a strong social pressure.

Xiyadie's paper cuttings

A divorce is out of the question; my wife and children live in the village and a divorce would hit them hard. Tradition is harsher than the winds in Siberia. But I’ve heard that there is a type of butterfly there that can survive in the cold. I wish I had the wings of a Siberian butterfly so that I could fly away from all the difficulty. I like cutting out butterflies very much; I long for freedom.
— Xiyadie

Xiyadie is a pseudonym, meaning "Siberian butterfly". He uses it to protect his identity. He recently came out to his wife, who became very tearful but now seems to have come to terms with the situation. The two children still do not know. 

Xiyadie never dared show these cuttings to anyone. One day two film directors, a married couple, arrived in the village to make a documentary about the paper cutting tradition. They had heard of his skill and wanted to talk to him. As they saw some of these cuttings, they started asking him prudently about them. Xiyadie finally told them his story, which resulted in the couple helping him to get to Beijing where he works as a doorman, cook and cleaner and sends the greater part of his earnings to his family back in Shanxii every month. 

Xiyadie's paper cuttings (on the left: Prison 2)

His pieces have deeply touched me, because I love paper and paper cutting, but also because of their colours (black, red but also colourful pieces including pink, white and yellow) and their somehow innocent yet painful, romantic yet erotic depictions of homosexuality.   

In Prison 2 (pictured above), Xiyadie wants to take control of his urges, so in this piece, he sews his penis together using a needle and thread, but his eyes can't let go of the picture of his boyfriend (in the left corner), so he sits uncomfortably, as if on the edge of a sword. To live as if in a cage, wishing to fly away but unable to do so. This piece has a strong violence within it and yet bears so much love.

Visa to the USA by Ma Liuming

...we judge a person by their clothes and other cultural markers, and not by who that person is. The attitude with which one encounters outward appearance often dictates how one encounters the inner personality.
— Ma Liuming

Artist Ma Liuming (1969)'s work Visa to the USA is also fascinating and explores well how gender is judged according to visual experience. In the image above you see three enlarged copies of his USA visa: one describing his sex as F, the second one with F stamped "cancelled without prejudice" and the third one with M. In 1998, Ma Liuming applied for a visa to the USA to travel to New York for his exhibition PS1. When he received the visa, he discovered that he had been registered as "female" rather than "male".

They just looked at my photo and didn’t feel they needed to check what it said in my application.

He went back to the US embassy in Beijing to get his visa was stamped with an "M".

Fen Ma Liuming Series No. 1 (1993)

The other exhibited artists' works are also very interesting and the whole exhibition, although small, is very well curated. An afterword also acknowledges that the exhibition does not cover the many feature films with gay, lesbian and transsexual themes or roles produced in China since 1996, and explains apologetically that it has been difficult to identify more female artists for the exhibition (only three out of the twelve on show in Amsterdam). This acknowledgement is much appreciated, especially in view of the theme. I usually am very sensitive about gender balance in public events but here, I must say, I didn't even think about it. Maybe it is because the themes around gender and sexuality are already central to the exhibition, and that I have delved deeply into these questions through the art. Nevertheless, these are powerful images I saw today and the exploration of themes around gender and sexuality through art is necessary across nations and cultures. I hope to see more of such stories and deep creative expressions.  

For more details about the artists and their work, visit the exhibition's webpage.

City in Translation

Vesterbro in Copenhagen. Photo by Erinç Salor. 

Vesterbro in Copenhagen. Photo by Erinç Salor. 

I am so happy to announce that following up on my residency in Copenhagen, I have now launched a new website: City in Translation

It is very exciting to be able to show one's work to the world. You put all your heart and energy into something, do your very best to make it look good and accessible to as many people as possible, and then, you feel vulnerable because after all, you've put some part of yourself out there. That's a bit what City in Translation does to me. It is an exploratory project, based on research, but the interpretation of the city through its languages is totally personal and subjective. Which is why I like doing it so much, and also why I feel a bit naked when sharing this city of my imagination with you. 

So, to help you navigate through the stories, I have also separated fictions and resources, these two sections go hand in hand to provide complimentary perspectives. Fictions features creative writing and other expressions by myself, Resources provides a collection of material from within and outside academia aiming to contextualise the work of this project and aid in future research.

City in Translation starts in Copenhagen, but I do wish to expand to further cities in the coming months and years. I would also like to develop other activities around the theme of exploring languages in urban spaces, in the forms of workshops and other events. This is a starting point of a journey, which I hope you will join. 

Spectacular Translation Machine comes to Europalia

Spectacular Translation Machine in London. Photo ©Carole Mendy

Spectacular Translation Machine in London. Photo ©Carole Mendy

When I was Translator in Residence at the Free Word Centre in London, I had the opportunity to work on a fantastic event entitled the Spectacular Translation Machine, an initiative from the British Centre for Literary Translation first hosted at the Southbank Centre. I wrote about my experience on Phoenix Yard Book's blog about the "Line of Fire" book, which was the work we focused on in London. 

If you're curious about the Spectacular Translation Machine, the wonderful Sarah Ardizzone is running another one at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 29 August

I got so inspired by the experience that I have since then dreamed of bringing the project into one of my projects outside of the UK (I am still dreaming of doing this in Turkey... if anyone wants to join forces). Being the Literature Curator of Europalia Festival for the Turkey edition has given me that opportunity. I am very happy to say that as part of the arts programme of this international festival focusing on Turkey in 2015-16, we are bringing the Spectacular Translation Machine to Brussels. Save the following dates in your agenda if you're in town:

  • 28 & 31 October 2015 @ Muntpunt, Brussels 
  • 05 December 2015 @ Librairie Le Wolf, Brussels 
  • 16 January 2016 @ PointCulture, Brussels

During these days, we will be working on a Turkish illustrated book by Feridun Oral, in collaboration with YAPI KREDI PUBLISHING in Turkey. 

I love Feridun Oral's works. His illustrations are beautiful, and the stories are truly moving. His early creative influence come from the tales told by his grandmother. Here's an excerpt of a presentation from A Journal of Internation Literature:

Animals are the subjects of much of Oral’s art and stories. He believes that children have an innate love of animals and that this love must be fostered and developed to teach children to love each other and themselves, and to appreciate nature. His characters are always well considered and strike a balance between realism and surrealism. The animals he draws are notable for their expressive features and actions. These expressions help children to identify with the animal characters in his books.


Europalia is currently looking for volunteers who know Turkish and can help the general audience during these days to translate the work into French, Dutch and English (you don't need to master all three, just Turkish to one language is enough!). See this Facebook post for further details about the call for volunteers. 

And below is a teaser of the whole festival, which will last from 6 October 2015 until 31 January 2016. I hope you can join the festivities and discover the many cultures of Turkey. 

Podcast: Art for your Ear by the Jealous Curator

I love podcasts and I listen to a lot of them, about tech, comics, art, productivity... mostly in English and in French (these ones are radio programmes I listen to once they are available to podcast). I will start sharing my favorite ones on a more regular basis on the blog.

I want to start with a podcast I have recently started listening to: the Jealous Curator's Art for your Ear. Danielle Krysa (aka the Jealous Curator) has been blogging daily about art and showcasing artists for about six years. And now, with this weekly podcast, she interviews artists in a very original way to get the best stories. It works really well because she knows these artists, most are people she has worked with on her projects or her books (like her Creative Block book with an array of artists advising on how to get over creative block is really inspiring) . I especially like the Art for your Ear podcast because it is funny and light while being full of enriching stories. Danielle achieves that balance very well and in about half an hour, you learn about an artist's life and work. 

The first episode sets the tone, Danielle talks to Martha Rich and the episode is entitled "meat and cake and lobsters and wigs", and her most recent interview is with Lisa Congdon, an artist I admire a lot.

So have a listen and enjoy!

Isabelle 100 Visages

Avignon et ses centaines de spectacles. Comment choisir, surtout lorsqu'on a peu de temps ? Comme je vous le racontais déjà dans un billet précédent : Les Murs d'Avignon, c'est en photographiant un mur où s'affichait Isabelle 100 Visages que je reçus une belle invitation à découvrir ce spectacle par une jeune femme qui passait par là :

"C'est un très beau spectacle, je vous conseille d'y aller"... "Vraiment, il est magnifique". 

J'ai vu beaucoup de beauté dans la générosité de cette jeune femme inconnue. Mon expérience avec Isabelle 100 Visages a débuté là, grâce à elle. 

A 10 heures, un torrent de boue jaillit du djebel, s’abat sur la ville, charrie tout sur son passage : rochers, troncs d’arbres, hurlements, cadavres de chevaux, livres, restes de maçonnerie. Et elle. Isabelle, Isabelle Nadia, Isabelle Eberhardt, Madame Ehnni, Mahmoud. Isabelle aux 100 noms, aux 100 histoires, aux 100 visages. Qui est-elle ? 21 octobre 1904, noyée dans le désert à 27 ans, elle n’existe plus. Voici sa vie.

Ainsi commence cette pièce librement inspirée de la vie d'Isabelle Eberhardt...

L'auteure Aurélie Namur dresse un portrait très touchant d'Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), personnage extraordinaire au parcours géographiquement, spirituellement, sentimentalement et culturellement très riche : aventurière, journaliste de guerre, convertie à l’Islam, parcourant le désert algérien habillée en homme, dénonçant le système colonial du 19ème siècle... 

Aurélie Namur a choisi de présenter sa version de la vie d'Eberhardt à travers le regard du 20ème siècle de quatre narrateurs qu'elle a inventé, accompagnés de mélange de langues, de musique et de chants, dans une très belle mise-en-scène de Félicie Artaud.

Aurélie Namur est Isabelle et une des narratrices, Romain Lagarde est tour à tour narrateur, Alexandre, Heinrich, Ali Abdul Wahab, Lieutenant, Abdallah et Docteur, Mohamed Bari passe de Narrateur à Augustin puis Vavert, Sidi El Hachmi, Slimène et au Maire de Doumci, quant à Céline Rallet elle est une des narratrices, Natalia, Nedjma, Lieutenant et Juge.

Tout comme Isabelle, les acteurs aussi se jouent des genres. 

Le caractère musical de la pièce -indissociable du texte, passe à travers le mariage des langues, où se mêlent russe, arabe, allemand, ainsi qu'au mariage musical du piano, qui accompagne tout le récit, des chants arabo-musulman et des chants soufis. 

Dans ses notes d'écriture Aurélie Namur raconte la genèse du projet : 

Interpellée par l’image négative de l’Islam en occident, je cherchais à écrire depuis deux ans le portrait d’une jeune européenne qui embrasse la foi islamique. J’ai débuté l’écriture investiguant les mosquées et Internet afin de me documenter sur la multiplicité des pratiques musulmanes. Mon propos n’était ni de dénoncer l’islamisme radical ou l’athéisme fondamentaliste ni de faire l’apologie des religions mais de dresser le portrait d’une jeune femme en quête identitaire pour rendre compte d’un autre visage de l’Islam. Au cours de l’écriture, j’ai buté contre une série de pièges qui me menèrent à cette conclusion: la thématique étant « brûlante », mon fil narratif a un spectre trop large et suscite un débat peu éloigné de la dichotomie des débats médiatiques que je souhaitais dénoncer : il me fallait opérer à distance.

Et je trouve qu'elle a bien réussi. Il est assez difficile de s'exprimer avec une telle sensibilité et sincérité au milieu de cette cacophonie d'opinions - bien souvent non sollicitées et pauvrement fondées, autour de l'Islam, de la radicalisation, de l'islamophobie, et j'en passe... Un texte comme celui-ci, qui m'a semblé très personnel et allant bien au-delà de ces débats, est nécessaire.

Comme elle l'explique, Aurélie Namur a choisi de dresser le portrait d'Isabelle en se posant toujours la question en filigrane : "qu’est ce qui fabrique un destin exceptionnel ? Comment en vient-on à vivre une destinée hors norme ?" C'est en allant au plus profond de la personne, de l'humain, des sentiments, qu'elle a réussi à me toucher autant.

J’essaie de rendre compte de la radicalité de sa démarche, de son goût de la liberté et de la justice, de sa manière de vivre en faisant fi des clichés, des usages, de la ségrégation coloniale.

J'ai souvent soif d'histoires humaines loin des clichés, surtout lorsque l'on parle d'Islam de nos jours. L'histoire d'Isabelle Eberhardt montre bien à quel point ces questions sont complexes et diverses. En parlant de "l'Islam" ou des "Musulmans", on a bien trop facilement tendance à oublier les niveaux d'existences d'une panoplie d'identités à travers les géographies, les cultures, les êtres. Aurélie Namur nous éloigne des clichés pour nous ouvrir une porte, une parmi les mille (et une, oserai-je ajouter), sur la vie de cet être aux 100 visages. Parce que nous sommes tous bien plus que nos croyances, nos peurs, nos envies, nos connaissances, nos lieux de naissance. Merci Aurélie de nous l'avoir fait vivre à travers votre sensibilité d'artiste de ce monde fou d'aujourd'hui. 

Je suis arrivé à cette dernière limite de la misère d’où sont la faim et le dénuement, les angoisses continuelles de la vie matérielle. Je suis comme une bête traquée impitoyablement, avec le but évident de la tuer, de l’anéantir [...]. Mais, au sein de tout cela, après tous les déchirements et en face de tous les dangers, je sens que je ne faiblirai pas, que deux choses me restent intactes : ma religion et mon orgueil. Je suis fier de souffrir de ces point vulgaires souffrances, d’avoir versé mon sang et d’être persécuté pour une foi.
En ce début de siècle dominé par la matière, j’ai choisi résolument l’esprit. Le soufisme est la mystique privilégiée du petit peuple, des pauvres, des démunis. Vous dites que ce sont des gens foutus mais permettez-moi de vous dire que pour moi, ces gens foutus sont infiniment supérieurs aux autres, à ceux qui s’imaginent être dans le droit chemin et qui errent tout aussi bien que nous mais à l’aveuglette et bêtement. Ce qui me sauve c’est cette résignation islamique dont j’ai eu le temps de me pénétrer. Autrement ce serait le suicide et la folie et très vite.
Je ne regrette ni ne désire plus rien...J’attends. Ainsi, nomade et sans autre patrie que l’islam, sans famille et sans confidents, seul, seul pour jamais dans la solitude altière et sombrement douce de mon âme, je continuerai mon chemin à travers la vie, jusqu’à ce que sonne l’heure du grand sommeil éternel du tombeau...
— Isabelle Eberhardt, Mes journaliers. (Dans ce texte, Isabelle Eberhardt écrit au masculin ce qui est courant dans ses correspondances mais aussi la rédaction de ses journaux).

Aurélie Namur
Isabelle 100 visages

Publié en 2015 chez Lansman Editeur.
64 pages - 10.00 €
isbn: 978-2-8071-0026-8