Born in 1985 in Ankara, Onur Gökmen employs film, sculpture, and performance in his work. He is interested in discourses, narratives, and objects that use the presumed authority of historical precedence, addressing how humans and things are entangled. Specific works have examined the ideological usage of archaeology in modern Turkey, the historical fountains of Istanbul, and Kars gravyer cheese, which was brought to Anatolia by Swiss cheesemakers in the 19th century. He has studied at Bard College and Städelschule, and shown his works at institutions including MMK, Frankfurt; MoMA PS1, NY; Asia Culture Center, Gwangju; BAHAR, 13th Sharjah Biennial; Delfina Foundation, London, and DEPO, Istanbul.
Asri Mezarlık (1295-2019)
I lost my grandmother Gülten in November 2019. Her will was to be buried in her grandmother’s tomb. The burial revealed a story about our family history, which runs parallel to the timeline of the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
My great-grandmother was born in Rožaje, Montenegro. Her husband, a military officer, died in war. One day, her house was raided, and she managed to hide her children in the oven. After that, she decided to leave Montenegro for the Ottoman Empire, eventually settling in Ankara, where she passed away in 1947.
Her unassuming tombstone had a spelling error, which seemed very strange to me. Her name is “Emine Mayko”, but it is written, “Emine Manyak” (Emine Maniac). My father was also surprised about the “mistake”, but my grandmother evaded his questions by saying that it was only an error.
When my uncle accessed the archives of Ankara Cebeci Asri Mezarlığı (Ankara Cebeci Modern Cemetery) to prove Gülten’s kinship to Emine, he found a document that was signed by his uncle Sabahattin. This document strengthened this possibility: Sabahattin argued with Emine before her passing, and he took revenge by changing her surname to Maniac on the tombstone. I believe Sabahattin was psychologically unstable, as he died by suicide when he was in his 30s.
I planned to visit the cemetery with my father, to change the tombstone together. This journey was documented by a film crew, which was then turned into a short film. I bring Emine’s tombstone to Istanbul, as a witness to the history of migration, and the trauma of migration. I replace Emine and Gülten’s tombstones with a tombstone that attest to the disintegrating empire, modernism, personal, and societal traumas. This serves as a reparation, to an extent.
With “Asri Mezarlık (1295-2019)”, I address issues of migration and collective trauma, passed down from generation to generation, with a desire to confront and to repair.