Erinç Seymen has some common points reflected on his pieces of works like categorizing people, militarism, nationalism, the concept of masculinity. In his almost every piece of artwork, we are exposed to the criticisms of these concepts. In this paper, I am going to discuss the artist’s engagement with masculinity, militarism, nationalism and homoeroticism in Patriot (2009). I will try to explain the reasons which make the artist stress these issues so much. It is true that queer theory comes from a Western understanding. In this context, Seymen seems to apply a Western theory to his society and its mentality and then presents it to Western world again. In the second part of my paper, I will try to discuss in what extent, can an artist succeed this. Are we able to make a universal reading of Patriot out of its specific references in Turkey?
First of all, I will try to give some possible readings of Patriot and then I will decide which reading is closer to what Seymen has in mind. The name of an artwork is much related to its context. In Patriot this is very visible. At first sight, without thinking the work in accordance with its name, it may be seen as a criticism on the place of men in the family as the earner of the family’s keep. He should keep his home on his back without even conscious of it meaning without even questioning what and why he is doing. He is also so bound to this job, in a sense it may be seen as a job or mission, so much that he cannot move, he is like rooted on this mission. This may be seen a very simple and also context related reading of this artwork. By context related I mean, Seymen is a Turkish artist and by being conscious of it, we are more prone to evaluate his works in a Turkish context which is basically patriarchal. By patriarchal, I do not simply mean, men are more dominant in this society then women. I also mean some closely related concepts in order to create a category which will serve in the borders of these concepts in the society like masculinity, being a soldier, being a father, being a nationalist, being strong and responsible of family and land.
On the other hand, the name of the artwork, Patriot, pushes us to consider it in a broader sense then a domestic one. When it is read with its name, it has some direct references to the concepts of masculinity, militarism and nationalism. Patriotism as a word means loyalty to one’s country and nation. It is not just loving your country but also fighting for it when necessary. This brings the idea of nationalism and also the militaristic ideas of being a soldier and being strong which are directly associated with being a man. Both terms are also seen as the demands of masculinity. So, the male figure in Patriot turns out to a body which is a depiction of masculinity. Seymen, intentionally idealized the male figure in Patriot. It is depicted as having well built with six packs on the belly and broad shoulder. Another thing on the picture also is a direct reference to being a soldier. It is the haircut. It is a typical ‘crew cut’.
The relation between homophobic masculinity and militarism is very common in Turkey. Still, I do not think it just appears in Turkey. That is why Seymen’s work with the name of Patriot would evoke almost the same criticisms globally. Military as an institution is always associated with masculinity. It is a typical visualization which we seen on Hollywood films that men go to Vietnam War with having just the sense of being masculine and being a patriot whereas women sit at home take care of children, pray for their men and wait or more optimistically they were the nurses at military. But the actual fight was given by those strong, muscled, nationalist, brave and masculine male figures. So, not just Turkish nationality has its roots from hetero-normative understanding but also every patriarchal society has the same kind of mentality. Actually, being protectionist is included in the concept of patriarchy both in the sense of family and country, nation. Ali Baydaş, in his article ‘68’den 11 Eylül’e, Özgürlükçülükten Irkçılığa’, said that considering homosexuality as a crime is a consequence of imperialist intervention which are basically Western rooted and this is done for the sake of modern concepts like ‘nation-state’ and ‘protecting public morality’.
Seymen, in his work Patriot tries to queer this identification with militarism and masculinity. Actually, it is a very common topic for Erinç Seymen which is seen in Portrait of a Pasha, Performance for a Poem and Alliance too. He basically tries to stress this references ( militarism to masculinity, being a soldier to being a strong, masculine man) since they are not natural concepts but we invent them in accordance with power in charge. Queer theory aims at different ways of knowing gender and sexuality since it advocates the uniqueness of the subject. Categorizing society as masculine male figures and putting some mission on these categories which makes the job of power in charge easier as being a soldier, patriots or nationalist is the basic source of being not able to found free identities. This is depicted in the Patriot as having the wires instead of legs and arms which, in a sense, makes the male figure disabled. It is depicted as if he wants to move and find his way where these socially constructed categories and missions related to these categories hold him. Actually, being on all fours can be interpreted as not being able to stand and go away but being dependent to a mother (land, moreover motherland in a more nationalistic sense) like a crawling baby in all fours having limited place to go.
Another interesting point which should be focused on the Patriot is the nakedness. Uniform is one of the signifiers of military and soldiers. It is also important for the sake of order and sameness. By queering those associations, Seymen also queer this sense of sameness. In one sense, nakedness is a door to escape from the borders drawn by the categories I mentioned above. So, we can interpret the nakedness, actually having no uniform, as the desire to individuation. Still, the home which is carried at the back is always there as a burden on one’s way to individuation. The home can both be seen as the responsibilities to your country and enforcements of the ideologies. Nakedness also provides a kind of homoeroticism to the picture. A muscled man presenting his body can both be a reference to the strength of a soldier and being erotically attractive between men. Since military is formed by men, though it is a taboo, being homosexual in the military is too important to ignore. The position he is in reminds also being penetrated. This can be read as being penetrated side in a homosexual relationship or by the missions put on him by just being, on the surface, a male figure, like being masculine, a soldier or being a patriot. At this point nakedness may also be read as being tortured by those missions. Being a soldier necessitated being those uniforms and doing what is necessary without even questioning just for the loyalty to your country. But in this depiction, not having uniforms may be interpreted as being not keen on doing what is necessary but doing it just because you are forced.