Being Turkish in Vienna

Birsen Özmen

The Brunnnenmarkt is the second largest street market in Vienna, after the Naschmarkt. There are some 120 different market stands. One of these, number 59 to be exact, belongs to Turk Birsen Ösmen and her family.

Özmen, moved to Vienna in 2000 from Burdur, Turkey. Here she met her husband who was born and raised here, and with whom she has two  children, a daughter, now 18 and a son, 14. Her husband’s father came to Vienna in the late 60s as a Gastarbeiter, and after a few years, was able to  bring his wife and two children here as well.

At first, the only struggle was with German, but she attended German courses and learned a lot working at the Brunnenmarkt.

Today the family lives in 23rd district.  To pick up their fresh fruit and vegetables, her husband gets up every day around 2:30 am to go to the wholesale market.

“It is heavy work,,” she said. “You can’t do it on your own. We have been working here as a family for the last 34 years, We love our job even if it’s hard sometimes. if you didn’t love it, it couldn’t last that long.“ 

A working day usually finishes at 19:00 and around 20:00 they arrive home. In total, it’s more than 40 hours per week. “Sundays are where the family comes together,” Özmen says. “It’s family time and begins with a late breakfast and becomes a day devoted to family.“ 

Canan Dağdelen

Born in Istanbul, artist Canan Dağdelen came to Vienna 41 years ago to study ceramics at the University of Applied Arts and currently teaches there as well.

“I felt very comfortable in Vienna from the very beginning,” says Dağdelen. She had learned German at school, which made it easier for her to overcome the language barrier.

In her works, Dağdelen explores subjects like belonging, identity and migration,, and the definition of what it means to be settled down. She often uses the language of architecture, especially early Islamic Architecture. “I am primarily working with space. Space as architecture, as a volume, as an extension, as a social and cultural area, where interactions are taking place.“ 

We visited her in her current exhibition Immaterial Construct in the JesuitenFoyer, at Bäckerstraße 18. The title of the work consists of the Turkish word, Taban, meaning the ground and the word “dot” in English. Dağdelen takes the ground plan of a caravanserai and dissolves it in small sets of aluminum objects, hundreds of them, hanging from the ceiling on very thin steel cables. “The work refers to the original function of a “caravanserai”, which was used for a temporary stay.” explains  Dağdelen. 

She uses gravity to create the hanging installation, but also, as with this floating piece, fights against it and creates a sense of weightlessness. Vienna offered Dağdelen many things, beginning with her education, but not only: “Especially the ’90s Vienna were wonderful. lots of exhibitions and cultural events,” challenges that improved her work. 

Ebru Kurbak

Ebru Kurbak is an artist, researcher and lecturer. We visited her current exhibition in the Fabrikraum, an offspace in 15th district run by artists from Turkey.

Born in Istanbul, Kurbak studied architecture there until her artistic path led her first to Linz, then to Vienna, where she continued her projects.

It is unusual work, bringing a traditional handcraft like lace together with a stroboscope. – two opposite poles joined, to provoke visitors to ask the question, “Why?”

“Growing up in Turkey in the late 80’s, I got in touch with lace when I was a teenager. My mother, who was an elementary school teacher, also wanted me to learn the craft. A lot of people around me were making lace. So, i learned and have been making it ever since.“

In the exhibition, Kurbak refers to two books, both published in the 19th century, one is about the stroboscope/optical illusion discs by Simon Ritter von Stampfer and the other about the introduction to crocheting. The latter one was the first book ever published about lace. With her work, Kurbak creates a reunion of these two areas. 

Kurbak is also interested in the contrast in locations: The inventor’s space was the lab and lace was produced at home. “Historical objects are loaded with material cultural, with functional and social meanings. As we enter a room these last are how we perceive objects. As I study the objects, I try to focus on the material and its weight, and experiment with light to see its transparency. After I install my work in the exhibition space, it will be perceived with all these possible meanings. I want to create this oscillation.”

Kurbak’s ongoing research, “The Museum of Lost Technology” (2020 – 2024) goes further in investigating textiles in art and technology and explores the position of “women’s work” in the contemporary world of technology-engaged art. 

Emre Yavuz

Born in 1990 in İzmir, Turkey, Emre Yavuz is a pianist who, today, lives and works in Vienna and plays the city’s signature instrument, the Bösendorfer.

He started his music education early under the “Educational Act for Prodigy Children” with Kamuran Gündemir in Ankara, before coming to Vienna at 16 to study with Roland Batik.

Emre’s life has been on the road, studying in Vienna, Hannover and Tel Aviv, performing with various orchestras as solo artist and continuing with renowned teachers like Fazil Say, Sanem Berkalp, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Arie Vardi.

After completing his studies, Emre returned to Vienna. Even though he hadn’t liked the city much when he first moved here, he found he missed it a lot when he was studying abroad.

“I chose to live in Vienna because I can be very productive here. I like how I work here; I like my mindset when I’m in Vienna.”

For Emre, his artistic approach is all about honesty, personality, integrity, and the experience. “For me a concert or an album in the 21st century should be an experience and you only achieve that if you have a concept, an idea that you want your audience to go through. Then it works. Otherwise, you are just playing stuff one [piece] after another.

“If I don’t have something personal to say with the piece I am playing, there is no point in me playing it.”

This is how he works while he is preparing for concerts and programs. 

“I also did it with the Rachmaninoff album,” he says, which was his debut album recorded in 2019 and released in 2020.

Due to corona restrictions, many concerts had to be cancelled or postponed. Today, he has started to have concerts again and wishes to continue. 

Ece Özdemir

Ece Özdemir is a film scholar and cultural worker. She was born in Ankara Turkey and moved to Vienna 5 years ago, to do her PhD.

She is part of the Neuer Wiener Diwan Team, which is an arts and cultural association. It was founded in 2007 as a literature project, which focused on the Austrian Avant Garde literature and its translations to Turkish as well as Turkish experimental poetry. The first 7-8 years of NWD was more about meetings with the writers and poets and the literature exchange between Istanbul and Vienna.

After Özdemir moved to Vienna and joined the team, they shifted focus onto other cultural aspects. With her background as a film festival coordinator and work with several NGOs in Turkey, she planned to use her knowledge and connections to establish a program with more of a focus on cinema and art. “At NWD, we can not think about arts and culture without the social sciences. Everyday politics also impacts the arts and culture, so we tried to structure a program, where we bring people from social sciences together with artists, writers and directors.”

As migrants themselves, they wanted to learn more about Austria. “We were curious about the city we are living in, we were curious about Austrian film, we were interested in the feminist movement in Austria and in the contemporary art.”

At first their events were mainly for the Turkish speaking community; later, they added some German translations to their programs. “In the last two years, we began to think about our projects as an encounter. How would it be, for example, to bring a feminist thinker from Turkey together with a feminist thinker from Iran or Austria. So next year we would like to continue with a program where we can invite people from all around the world and open up a wider community with more events in English.“ 

Through its events, lectures, and screenings, NWD seeks to disrupt the prevailing viewpoint in art, literature, and history and to bring out previously unseen, unknown, or not-so-familiar perspectives. Thus, they have long wanted to bring their events to the public arena. “We want to see how going outside to the public space would impact our discussions.” With the pandemic, they thought it was time to make some first steps. So a program of Gedankengänge was created. 

The first Gedankengang (where walking and thinking take place together) was organized with Petra Unger, as a feminist city walk, where she talked about Austria’s leading feminists and their stories. During lockdown, they organized a festival of online film screenings, honoring films like Phases of Matter/ Maddenin Halleri, Mimaroğlu and Invisible to The Eye/ Ah Gözel Istanbul.