My hell is your salvation.

Hannah Cauhépé

2019 - Ongoing

Istanbul, Turkey

My hell is your salvation. (Chapters 1 & 2)

Istanbul, Turkey, Summer 2019.

Cehennem (Hell)

On the Asian side of town, a soccer team is rallying after their yearly event was cancelled on a whim by the police. The reason lies in the name: Queer Olympix. For three years they have been offering a multisport safe space for queer people to come together and be themselves while playing sport for a weekend. But in 2019, they had grown too much, were too visible, too disruptive, who knows.

This is Erdogan’s Turkey. Queer isn’t part of the vocabulary. Pride has been banned since the Gezi protests, in 2014. LBG… What? There are no protections, you should feel lucky it’s not illegal to be immoral, be happy you get to live. But what kind of life exactly? Two options: stay and fight or leave. As a whole, the team fights. But the reality on the ground has forced some members to leave, in search of a more peaceful way of being themselves.

Araf (Purgatory)

On the European side of town, A. tells me his story. He’s a rapper. Not the most accepting genre when it comes to homosexuality. He left Palestine a long time ago, traveled, but life and the reality of his identity and passport caught up with him. N. has also been in Istanbul for a few years after running away from Morocco, where life as a trans woman had become unbearable. At least here, she can be herself.

Turkey, the gateway to Europe. No visa needed if you come from the Arab world. Much of the discourse surrounding the migratory flux coursing through Turkey focus on Syrian refugees, displaced by war. But many LGBTQ people born in countries where their sexual orientation and/or gender identity make them criminals turn to this bridge between life and death.

For the second half of 2019 (and pre-pandemic 2020), working with photography, video, and audio, I have been following, the Queer Olympix team, focusing on certain members who are staying and fighting for their rights and others who choose to grab a breath of fresh air elsewhere in Europe. I have also met several LGBTQ refugees from countries where they are illegal, and who see Turkey either as a safe haven or a limbo on the way to that – where, at least their lives are less at risk.

Migration has been at the heart of European politics at least since 2015 but queer lives are but a footnote to the main narrative –a poor one that frames these movements as an invasion where Europe is under siege, and thus leaves little room for nuance. “Enough of identity politics they say”, as if there was a default point of view we could all resort to – which would conveniently be that of a cisgender straight white male.

“My hell is your salvation” is a three-part exploration of the very real, sometimes dire consequences that one’s identity has depending on where one is born, and how people navigate the sea they have been put on. Paying homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and framing these flux and stories through a religious vernacular and structure, given how religion is almost always used to justify homophobia, the aim is to question it, is there even a heaven?

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  • The Queer Olympix give an opportunity to people to be themselves freely, to express their gender identity or sexual orientation without fear. Last year, before the main event, people went to the beach, where the police followed them but did not intervene.

  • The Queer Olympix were created by an amateur LGBTQ soccer team. Their goal is to offer a safe space for LGBTQ people to practice a sport.

  • While the team was finalizing preparations, police came and banned the event in order to “protect public order and morality”. After getting 5 minutes to leave the premises, everyone met up at a café to process what had happened and decide on a course of action.

  • Nightlife, and it's almost universal, is a key part of the queer experience.

  • Seçil loved playing soccer as a kid but had to stop once puberty hit. She wants to be visible so little girls can keep playing.

  • Meriç shaving their own head, in their dorm room, in Oslo. Meriç went to Oslo to work on their PhD on queer nightlife, but they find the activism boring in Norway, too complacent.

  • Taksim Square, in the heart of Istanbul, where the Gezi protests took place in 2013. The police never leaves.

  • Meriç gets up early for the gym. It is important to them to work out and get a body more in line with their gender identity – trans & nonbinary .

  • Derya is a civil engineer, she went to Dresden for her Master’s degree and hasn’t been back. She has trouble finding her place in Germany but going back isn’t an option for her.

  • Elif’s first tattoo: the pink and black triangles that the Nazis tattooed on their LGBTQ victims. Elif chose the symbol to reclaim it, like others reclaim the terms slut or fag.

  • Even though it’s not the same as back home, Derya has found a queer soccer team in Dresden, where she has been living for 2 years.

  • Members of a queer soccer team from Mersin (close to the Syrian border), show me images of a Pride march from a few years ago – pride events are banned, supposedly for the safety of the participants…

  • Prayer time at a mosque in an Arab neighborhood of Istanbul.

  • After an intense day of brainstorming and organizing, everyone gets to relax and dance with dinner and raki, an anise-based Turkish liquor, everyone free to be themselves – behind closed doors.

  • Since Erdogan has been president he has been building mosque after mosque, as part of a general movement to put religion back at the center.

  • Screengrab from the video part of the project. Busra tells me about the state of LGBTQ rights in Turkey.

  • A. has fled Palestine for Turkey, where he can be openly gay and somewhat at peace.

  • For N., as a trans woman life isn't necessarily life and breezy in Istanbul but at least she doesn't have to dress up as a man in order to survive.

  • Excerpt of one of my conversations with A.

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