The designer of this year’s Gay Star News Pride tote bags is Turkish artist, Sadi Güran. Approximately 20,000 bags, featuring Güran’s unicorn-inspired design, will be given out at Pride festivals in the UK over the summer months.
Güran is a 40-year-old gay man born, raised and living in Istanbul. He studied art at High School and then textile design at a fine arts academy. It was at the academy that he began to produce illustrations.
He has since done work for several publishing companies, including children’s books and magazines, and had a couple of solo exhibitions.
His beautiful work is characterized by delicate, sometimes fragile figures – sometimes reminiscent of the work of Austria’s Egon Schiele or Gustav Klimt.
Güran namechecks Klimt, alongside Norman Rockwell, Kent Williams, Jamie Hewlett and Enki Bilal among his favorite artists. Handcrafted pieces are produced using watercolors, while other work is now produced on computer.
Fifteen years ago, he co-founded Bant magazine. The publication covers alternative culture, arts, music and cinema. It also features plenty of illustration work from a wide range of artists.
The situation in Turkey
In recent years, Turkey has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The country is currently under the rule of controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the summer of 2016, the country experienced a bloody attempt at a coup to overthrow Erdogan from power. Instead, the failed coup only led to him tightening his position: rounding up and imprisoning many perceived to oppose him.
Erdogan’s influence over the country extends to all corners of life, but LGBTI communities have been especially prone to hardship.
In a country that is split between Muslim and Christian influences, LGBTI people have little to no legal protections to discrimination. But the situation has deteriorated in the last couple of years.
Crackdown on LGBTI expression
The annual Pride march in Istanbul was banned from going ahead by authorities in 2016 and 2017. Authorities had banned the march citing security fears. When some campaigners attempted a public demonstration last year, they were met with tear gas and arrested by police.
‘They are banning Prides because of the security situation,’ Güran says in a Facetime call from his home. ‘Which is funny because it is their job to protect us. But they are saying “We are banning this because we can’t protect you.”
Earlier this year, an LGBT Film Festival was also banned from taking place, just days before commencing.
Güran says LGBTI people just want to live their lives. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that any attempt to express themselves is viewed as a political act – even a simple demonstration of affection.
‘Always fighting for ourselves’
How scary a situation is it? Do LGBTI people feel fearful of what is going on in the country at the moment?
‘LGBT people are always fearless because we are always fighting for ourselves: We are living in a Muslim country,’ he says. ‘Everything is political. Just holding my boyfriend’s hand in the street is political. My family always love me for who I am and a lot of other people are OK with it, but conservative people and the Government are always doing something bad and negative about it.’
There is a determined effort to prevent queer events taking place, and local LGBTI communities – and the wider population – are wondering what a snap election taking place 24 June will bring. Will it bring an end to Erdogan’s reign or extend it further?
‘Everyone is waiting for the election. We don’t know what’s going to happen because everything can change so easily here.
‘Our government has to go. I’ve never seen something like this, and I’m 40 years old. It has to change immediately, not only for the LGBT community, but for everyone in Turkey.’
Güran says much of Instanbul, compared to many parts of Turkey, is relatively safe for gay people.
‘There are areas that you can live your life freely, like in Istanbul, where I live.
‘But elsewhere, yes, there have always been hate crimes against LGBT people and trans murders. It’s really dangerous out there, but again, in certain areas. Istanbul is a different story.’
Younger generations more open
He says he doesn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up around the forthcoming elections, but believes change is coming.
‘We see it at the Occupy Gezi Park incidents in Istanbul five years ago. There we fought side by side with LGBTI+ groups and groups of football fans, along with many other groups. We stood together. That was beautiful. It shows that we can change a lot of thing if we stand together.
‘And last year I remember saying “Yes!” when a group of girls with headscarfs took selfies at my exhibition with all these naked homoerotic portraits. You see, people, especially younger generations, are open to loving each other.’
It was in this spirit that he was happy to design this year’s Pride bag.
‘My design comes from my belief in that the core beauty of humankind is in its diversity. And when we get together, despite all our differences, we create magic.’