Raised between southwestern Turkey and London, Adem Aydın is a political photographer dedicated to documenting the increasingly turbulent political reality of the UK, whether it be grappling with the aftermath of the rise of right-wing politics or reflecting the hope provided by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Recently on show at Shoreditch’s Truman Brewery, his ‘Turks of London’ series draws on his own Turkish heritage to combat the disinformation spread as part of the Leave.EU campaign in 2015 and which still lingers today. Latching onto the possibility of Turkish EU membership, pro-Brexit campaigners sewed fears of a mass influx of Turkish nationals – a move that was widely condemned as racist. In direct contrast to these seeds of hate, Adem’s series shows the beauty, diversity and joy of the thriving Turkish community already living in London.
Great to talk to you Adem! How did the concept for this series come about?
The idea came about during my second year at university, and my general interest in politics at the time, I was at the peak of my radical student activist years! I paid a lot of attention to the EU referendum, while my family is very on top of the Turkish political situation. It had been spoken about a lot growing up, whether Turkey joining the EU would ever happen, and whether it would be a good idea or not. So to hear that Leave.EU was claiming that Turkish EU membership was imminent was therefore complete nonsense. It even got misconstrued in their propaganda that if Turkey joined the EU, up to 79 million Turks would be migrating to the UK. That’s just short of the entire population of Turkey, so anyone could see it was a load of nonsense.
What are you hoping to achieve with the series?
I was determined for the UK to remain in the EU and to hear that people were being told such lies pushed me into action. Responding to the Brexit propaganda, I also aimed to give a face to some of the ‘Turks’ who already lived among us in London. Turks have migrated to the UK for generations, many as asylum seekers, while in recent years, a younger influx of business-minded Turks have moved to the UK.
Do you think the Turkish community in London is visible enough?
We are all used to the kebab shop on our corner, the off-license, greasy spoons run by Turks, but I feel that perhaps the complexity of Turkey’s history and the population are not understood in the UK. I’m also not sure whether people understand many Kurdish people’s motivations for living in London [due to political unrest]. It’s complicated but we all have Turkish friends, so it would be nice if we were to reach out to understand them a little more. It’s a vast and beautiful country, while there are many struggles for different parts of the population.
The Turkish population is made out to be a monolith by the UK public, what should British people know about Turkish diversity?
My younger brother has a different dad to me, his father is from the East of Turkey from a place called Gaziantep, meaning both are Kurdish, with British and Turkish nationality. My stepfather is self-proclaimed as Turkish, while my father is a what you would call a Cretan Turk. These are two examples of the nuances among the Turkish population I was aware of before the project, but there are also Cypriot Turks, Bulgarian Turks, Alevi’s, and many more factions among the population.
Are there any stereotypes that you’d like to combat?
I’ve faced sinister and upsetting assumptions that I have to be aggressive and tough and I want to counter that and to show that we have aspirations beyond kebab shops and off-licenses. The younger Turkish generations have very liberal and European values and I want to highlight some really inspiring young women at the forefront of the Turkish population and in the UK’s cultural scene including CSM Architecture graduate Esma Düzgün and Suna Hurman, member of the Alevi Dance Group on Ridley Road. I hope that now the UK has left the EU we can begin to value the diversity we have in our country even more than ever.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m currently working and looking for funding for a project called Filos (Greek for “friend”) which documents my father’s ancestry on the island of Crete. I am trying to counter the notion that Turks and Greeks have always been enemies and also help to bridge a few gaps between younger generations of Greeks and Turks. The project will combine portraiture, landscape, video, poetry, and journalism to tell the stories of the 1923 Population Exchange, where Christians and Muslims were forced to leave Turkey or Greece based on their religions.
Follow Adem on Instagram here.