Esra Ersen

In her new installation When Thinking Some Play with the Mustache, Others Cross Arms, the artist Esra Ersen, who lives in Berlin, traces the gaps in memory and the white spaces in the history of Bulgaria.

In the footsteps of the early 20th century Ottoman travelers to the Balkans, Esra Ersen visits the Bulgarian capital Sofia. In talks with researchers and artists and during visits to archives and musea she learns of the contemporaneity of historical narratives and stereotypes. Her search aims for the crossing points of perceptions between feelings, experience and the past.

Bulgaria, which achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in several steps beginning in the late 1870s, has little room in its official culture of memory for this period of “500 years under the Ottoman yoke”. The selection of history as the fundamental precondition for finding one’s identity is found in every new national beginning, for example also in the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Bulgaria’s neighboring country and the legal successor to the Ottoman Empire. The found objects and stories that Esra Ersen brings together seem odd, but provide insight into a European past that can be a prospect for a supranational Europe.

Ersens work resulted from a collaboration with Leyla von Mende, PhD candidate at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, who is working on representations of post-Ottoman Southeast Europe in Ottoman travel writing.
1 / 14
When Thinking Some Play with the Mustache, Others Cross Arms, HD Video (31'), 2013, Installationview Photo by (c) Mike Terry


With serene subversion, Esra Ersen’s work is based on an empirical and analytical study of social situations through culture, myths, ritual, and economy. She applies a methodology of micro-events borrowed from documentary filmmaking and anthropological investigation. She consistently explores the relationship between the individual and society, highlighting how identities are formed and changed, how the other’s perception and fixed clichés influence our self-perception. Whether working in photography, performance, video, or on installation pieces, she often reacts to or uses the specific location of her activity to formalize her investigations. She has participated in: the 4th and 8th Istanbul Biennial; the 4th Kwangju Biennial; Manifesta 4 (the European Biennial of Contemporary Art); the 4th Liverpool Biennial; and the 27th São Paulo Biennial.