06/01/2021 | Writer: Yunus Emre Demir

Our guest is the performance artist Aria Na. We discussed with Aria Na and the art starting from childhood from the April 23 shows to the stages, situations in working in nightlife and being a performance artist in the quarantine period.

“Existing in the field as a lubunya* is a matter in itself” / Aria Na Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Hello Aria Na. I would like to thank you for accepting to participate in this interview. First of all, can you tell us about yourself?

I am Aria Na. I am 22 years old. I am studying at Management of Stage and Performing Arts Program at Bilgi University. I am also a performance artist as a part of a group that we have formed together with performance artists. Besides, we have a project we started together one of my friends called “O Perf Türkiye”.

How long have you been interested in performance art? So how did you get started?

I actually started when I was very young. It started with preparing something for the April 23 shows in primary school. There were theater plays where I wrote the script, directed, brought my friends together and played. Again on April 23, we prepared a dance show with my friends ... Actually, this process started when I was a kid.

Later, I moved to Istanbul and had other responsibilities. I moved away from the arts and performances, but with “Dudakların Cengi”, that period came to my life again. 2 years ago, when “Dudakların Cengi” had not reached such a large audience yet, when I went to watch it, I had no plans to go on stage. But when I went there and got under the influence of that scene and the applause, I got my name written to go on the stage.

I was so excited that I had not been on the stage in many years. After years, I was on the stage again, and then it continued. I have been doing it for 2 years continuously.

Why did you choose to make it?

I think we queers are born for performance. I speak for myself; I always wanted to do what I love to do in life. I like the feelings like being applauded and being appreciated. I also think I have talent. I can see myself on the stage.

I love to provide a show, to be on the stage. I had that feeling when I was a kid. Writing something, envisioning those in my head, performing it on stage with my friends while also directing… For this reason, I always prefer to be accompanied with a crowd in my shows.

You said you are studying Management of Performing Arts. Can you tell us about the school process? How was it?

I started school this year. I knew the department last year when I was preparing for the university exams, but that was not my dream. I studied in science high school before and I wanted to do something about this area. But I also started performing; it was an important part of my life.

One day I had an epiphany and said I do not want to spend my life in the lab. At the same time, that period was my peak period in terms of performance. I had performed in important places, and I decided that I had to continue with getting the training of this. It would be better for me to continue my life doing something I love. After these thoughts, I made a quick decision and prepared for the talent exams, and then I passed the exam and started to the school.

You often make performance art in nightlife. Have you ever experienced discrimination or difficulty when you perform?

I think I created my safe space for myself. Therefore, I have not been subjected to any kind of discrimination. But this is also about being in a more closed environment. I did not choose to go outside of my own circle, I just said yes to jobs I trust. There are a lot of demands, but there were places that I refused because I could not afford to go to these cis-het places. I have always determined my own boundaries. Because an incident I will face where I am not safe can turn into a trauma for me. My art may not be understood there. I do not want the persons in those places to see my art as a service they only get for money. This will bother me. That is why I have always determined those boundaries myself and created the spaces I want to work in.

I am performing an art and yes, I also earn money from the art I perform. I do not know if I want these separate from each other. I guess I do not just want to make art or just make money. In today’s conditions, we need a financial power to continue our lives or to think of new productions and unfortunately our own budget does not support this. Therefore, I create my own resources myself; I get paid for the art I perform. Taking the two together makes me relaxed and motivated. It also helps me prepare for the next job. But I would be lying if I say that I am doing my job only for money or only for the sake of art.

What do you think about the advantages and disadvantages of working in nightlife for LGBTI+ persons?

I think queers are the group that manages and organizes this network that we call “entertainment” in the best way in the world. All the examples I have seen supported this idea, because we can think very broadly. Whatever life gives us; we can handle an issue with all sides.

First of all, we are born politically. The most important thing in nightlife is safety. We know very well how to ensure this safety, that persons have limits and that these limits should not be violated. When we achieve this, when we give this trust to the other party, we start ahead. It is our advantage that the queers can manage this whole process well.

Coming to the disadvantages, it feels like what we call nightlife keeps us in the night. Our entertainment network does not continue during the day. I think this is a major disadvantage. So there is a perception that stucking in the nights and being in nightlife are inherent for queers. We may not be able to create areas where we can socialize and work outside of nightlife due to external factors.

There are events like daytime festivals and I think a more cis-het world prevails there.

How relevant is your performance on stage with your story?

I would be lying if I say I am telling my own story at every performance. I am a person with vivid imagination. I am influenced by a song I listen to, a movie I watch, something the things I see on the road while walking and turn these into a performance. Most performances are like this.

But of course, I add something from my life, with or without realizing it. Adding details from my life to my art is an important point for me to create my own style and be authentic

I mean, I cannot say that there are no parts of myself in my performances, but I go beyond my own life.

You are now also studying in the school related to your work. Can you talk about your future plans? What do you want to do in the future?

I have so many plans about myself ... With my friends Q-Bra and Krutzog; we together launched a project called “O Perf Türkiye”. In fact, a parody of the competition show published in Turkey channels, as you can understand from the name. I have various feelings for these television shows. It feels like we were excluded from here for being queer and we could not live it. It was always my dream to participate, to compete, to live dramas and so on. But I see that we cannot live this openly. I do not remember a television show in which queer artists competed with their open identity.

This is why we created “O Perf Türkiye”. We got bored in the 5 square meter hall of the house and we started to play. We had a lot of fun doing this at home. We had incredibly beautiful moments in that tiny living room. During this period, a venue asked me to organize an event and I decided to do this. I immediately went to Q-bra and Krutzog to be the jury. They also said okay, they were very happy. Then the contestants were selected, songs were selected, rehearsals were done and we had a very good night. We were going to do it again, but the pandemic process started. My recent goal is to reorganize this night.

At the same time, I want to finish my school. I am at the very beginning in this road. I want to learn the methods for this work. I also have a plan to stay at the academy. I want to keep my scores high and have a master’s degree abroad at a school related to my field. I think why I may not be the good producer of the future...

I want to get out of stucking at night. I will also do my best about it. For example, a festival last for a whole day and night comes to my mind.

Initiatives such as “Dudakların Cengi, O Perf Türkiye“ are actually diverting the queer nightlife in Turkey. There were drag queens in some venues before, and they were usually queers, but what you do now is something completely different and you really shake some dust in nightlife. This is also very intertwined with politics. How do you feel about that?

As I said, my re-engagement with the performance art started with Dudakların Cengi. I think Dudakların Cengi has a unique dynamic. It is a process where everyone puts their own efforts and we do great things. A lot of persons with different personalities come together and we create something magical.

Besides, as you said, there is a political aspect of what we do. Drag queens always evaluated as someone wearing wigs and make-up, shaving the body hair. We are smashing this pattern. I can also go on stage with beard; someone else can perform without shaving the body hair or without wearing makeup. We have shown this. At this point, we have a very good political stance. We are all political persons at some point, and our relationship of trust with each other depends on the bond that comes from here.

When you do not an ordinary and do something new, you naturally enter that political field, and we do this. This is what separates us from other drag cultures.

In the beginning, for many persons, including me, this issue was at the level of “gays try drag”. But you have clearly demonstrated that this is not the case, that women and queers are also in this field. On this occasion, I have provided my self-criticism in this regard. In this process, you have revealed both the injustice of the labor and the discriminatory attitudes towards the queers. You actually changed the direction of queer politics. Do you have anything to say about this?

I agree very much with this statement. We are working with persons from all over Turkey and from very different lives, having very different personalities. We have a wide variety of identities related to where we stand. Even the coming together of so many different queer persons is a political symbol in itself.

We all do something about ourselves. We destroy persons’ perceptions, we play with them. We demolish the profile of women and men imposed by society by applying headlights on the beard or exaggerated make-up. This is a very special job. It is very important way to show the politics.

For example, I see straight couples who came to the front of the venue while Dudakların Cengi is on the stage. We all have that points where we can contact those persons. You make news, you do a social media campaign, but these persons will not even know about those. But when you go there with makeup and chat with those persons, you can get their attention and teach them something. Even this is a very important step for activism. I find the work we do very valuable in this sense.

Performance is not always activism, but I think my performance is activism. Everyone can add something from their own life and from their political stance. There may be persons talking about child brides on the stage or they can draw attention to transgender murders. At some point, you show this to the person who came to the event that night and had no idea about it. This is also an activism in that sense.

There are comments that your work is white. Do you think you are doing a “white” work?

We cannot be white even if we want, I think, if we are doing this job. Existing in the field as a queer is a matter in itself ... I do not understand this criteria of being “white”. At least I know myself that I cannot be white

I also consider it unfair to define our art as white. It feels like it is done with the intention of excluding a little more rather than criticism. While making this criticism, they do not know the artist, they do not know the job, they have not talked with the artist even once about the work ... For this reason, I cannot find these comments made from outside fair.

Are you worried about the future? Are you feeling hopeful?

Like everyone else, I have anxiety about the future ... I am sorry, but I do not feel like I can live in this country without worrying about the future. You can be all alone completely, regardless of life and the circumstances you live in. For example, the state does not pay my rent when I need it. I would also like not to have this anxiety, to be supported by responsible persons ... For these reasons, of course I have anxiety.

Do I want to do something in this country, yes I do, but I am not sure if I can stay in these conditions in this country. Maybe after securing something abroad, I can return here and do something. But my plans, like many others, are always about going abroad.

I do not know if my work is paid the attention in a way I deserve. We all know that artists are not much valuable in this country. For example, if you can solve 3 math problems, you are more valuable and that makes me feel bad.

How do you get motivated again when you face any difficulty?

Yes, we all really experience various difficulties in our lives. But with these situations, we cannot continue this process by being sad or burning out. That is why I overcome such moments by devoting myself to my art, by producing and by thinking a lot on my work.

Other than that, I feel happy when I am applauded for my work on stage. Knowing that I have achieved something makes me happy.

How is the quarantine process going for performance artists?

We are going through an incredibly difficult period. Everyone I saw around me was puzzled; they are in a difficult situation. There is no area in which we are supported or secured. There were a lot of persons who made a living, earning money. We all found ourselves in a process we could not understand. We have no idea how this will progress.

We started various campaigns. We started Cengaver Solidarity Fund. Queerwaves also launched a fund. We had to resort to these ways because we need money to continue our lives. We expect support from everyone in this regard.

At the same time, we started to plan what we can do in this process in terms of production. In this process, we talk about ways such as how we motivate persons, how we can continue our work. We want to move our business into a digital platform. But of course, we do not know how long this process will continue, so we cannot predict what steps we will take.

Thank you very much for your answers. I do not have any other question to ask, is there anything else you would like to add?

I think we are doing a very valuable job. We need support during and after this quarantine process. This does not necessarily have to be a financial support. Even a good message can be empowering. We are all going through difficult processes and we need financial and moral support.

*lubunya is a word from Turkish queer slang which can be roughly translated as queer

Translation: Özge Gökpınar

Tags: human rights, arts and culture, labour