Melis Berk (@iyilesmecizimleri) is a promising artist who shares their works via Instagram. Those works touch a lot of topics from social justice to gender identity politics. We all know that social media has the opportunity to open free space to different marginalized communities. I was following Melis’ account for over a year since the days they were drawing black & white. This week, I had a chance to interview them.
When I asked Melis to do a short introduction for our followers, they gave me a genuine answer. “I’m a nearly 23 years old human being -my birthday is arriving!- with non-diagnosed mental illness issues and lots of ideas which are all over the place. I go by she/they pronouns, also identify as a non-binary woman, and I’m an ace lesbian. I just love women+ people so much that I don’t know how to mention it. So, I just say it at that. I’m vegan for over a one and a half year. Also, I’m a psychology student about to graduate which freaks me out. And I’m an abuse survivor who is *still* trying to recover.”
You are doing inspirational work on Instagram. How did you start posting your art on Instagram? What were your inspirations to use art to heal?
My first drawing includes two-woman-aligned people holding hands and it says: “I believe you”. Some men from Lambdaistanbul (an LGBTIQA+ solidarity association in Turkey) didn’t believe me when I said I was harassed there at that time, so I did this to support myself.
I produce art that I myself in need of seeing, so above all I do it for me 🙂 Visual arts have always been an essential part of my life, and I decided to use them to talk to myself, say things to myself that nobody seems to be interested to say, things that I need to hear from somebody.
Your art is inclusive for people from different gender identities and sexual orientations. How do you manage to be inclusive? What were your preparations for the statement behind your artistic style?
Even though I’m trying to prioritize representing myself and people who are close to me in my art, I also try to include as many disadvantaged groups as possible and their issues. I think I manage to be inclusive by listening to the subjects of oppression, and it helps being identified with so many disadvantaged groups myself. I simply ask myself, “Hearing what would help me and my friends at this time?” and then I go by the answers that come to my mind.
Is it hard to express yourself as an artist in Turkey?
I am not used to censoring myself, but I’m certainly familiar with it. when I drew about a sexual abuse incident with officeholder perpetrators in Gercüş, Batman (a city in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey) and I wanted it to be on Kaos GL (an online LGBTIQA+ News Portal based in Turkey), they refused me due to the ban of talking about that incident.
When I drew about Ebru Timtik’s death and wrote: “The perpetrator is the state,” on that drawing, my mother who is a lawyer warned me about being taken into custody. And recently, when I draw a person holding a banner that says “HDP -an opposition party in Turkey-, universities and the Istanbul Convention are ours”, so many people reacted badly and claimed that HDP consists of terrorists, using the state’s language against us. So I can positively state that yes, it is hard to express myself as an artist in Turkey, but it takes more than that to stop me.
How social media affected your art? Did it allow you to reach a broader audience? How latest policies of Instagram affected your art? Lots of queer artists and performers were influenced badly due to censorship. Was this an issue for your art?
Yes, social media allowed me to reach so many people that I can ever imagine. Censorship from Instagram was not a major issue for me but rather censorship requested from other Instagram users is. I draw people who have non-removed body hair, fractures on their body, who are fat, and mostly woman-aligned. That fact draws people -and by people, I mean random men- crazy. And, I guess I’m starting to learn how to like it.
How do you earn your life besides your art?
I don’t do anything to earn my life yet, I have alimony and a scholarship, they are enough to keep me alive. I’m planning to work for a non-profit organization when I graduate.
Do you have turning points regarding your artistic career?
Yes, a couple of them! When I started to use my menstrual blood to draw about my abuse history, when I stopped it when I started to draw about healing rather than the trauma, and when I get my drawing tablet! All of them changed my drawing style differently.
What kind of feedback do you get from your followers?
I get mostly positive feedback, about how my art accompanied their healing journeys, about how I said exactly the things they needed to hear, about how I make people think about abuse, relationships, traumas, and healing. I welcome all responses with literal heart eyes which are also in tears, and I feel like people also accompany me in my healing journey.
Lastly, what would you suggest to emerging artists like you?
I don’t see myself in a position that I can make suggestions to other artists, but since you asked that… I would love them to draw or paint or do whatever they want to do without fear of being too much.
To support Melis’ work, you can check out their Shopier account!
Melis also publish their works in English here: @draw_to_heal