Exhibit displays horror of killings in Turkey

by Kunyi Li | 3/6/13 11:00pm

The newest exhibition of original works by Sera Boeno '14, titled "Tore," exposes the tragedy and horror of honor killing in Turkey that has taken many young women's lives. The exhibit, which opened last weekend in the Black Family Visual Arts Center, features installations and sculptures assembled from a variety of organic material and found objects. Each piece of art recounts the story of a girl who lost her life to this horrifying tradition.

In the corner of the gallery sits a monumental wooden box wrapped by metal fence, with dirt filled to the brim and a dirty shovel leaning against the structure. This centerpiece is a visceral recounting of the story of Medine Memmi, a 16-year-old girl found buried under a chicken coop in her family's yard after she had been friendly with boys at her school and spoken with them on the phone.

"She had her hands and feet tied and she was found with a lot of dirt in her lungs, which means she was alive when she was found," Boeno said. "This is literally the dimension of her hole. I want to honor her by making this her casket."

Honor killings are acts of vengeance committed against a female believed to have shamed her family or community. Transgressions range from those as light as inappropriate dress to refusing an arranged marriage. This barbaric act is always committed by someone, usually a male, within the family.

"It is so prevalent in such a dysfunctional and ignorant environment that is Turkey today," Boeno said. "The Turkish media, government and people have grown numb to the effects of Tore.' I have always believed that these women and their stories needed recognition."

Boeno said she was compelled by a sense of obligation, or "a debt of conscience," as it is called in Turkish, to give a voice to these women silenced by death.

"I am fortunate enough to be a part of the Dartmouth environment that fosters truth, awareness and discussion." Boeno said, "In such a community that would value it and be intellectually stimulated by it, I feel an obligation to create homage to these women with the best way that I know how: through art."

Boeno developed the exhibition's concept last year after collaborating with Hood Museum of Art director Michael Taylor and Hopkins Center director Jeff James. With a grant from the Class of 1961 Arts Initiative Fund, Boeno worked tirelessly in her own studio spaces under the guidance of studio art professor Brenda Garand.

"Sera is great to work with and she is a brave artist," Garand said. "Her subject is really difficult for the viewers to take on, but she makes the viewer think about what happens. She brings awareness to the issue and her work has a toughness to it."

Boeno's works feature dried fruits and jewelry supplies, alluding to her cultural traditions and the nostalgia she feels for her homeland. For her, they are a powerful means of expression that evokes colorful imageries through simple means.

"For some reason, dried apricots always remind me of motherly things. Probably because my mother always sends them to me," Boeno said. "The red evil eye beads are for fending off evil. It's an interesting twist on how a person tries to fend off evil by stabbing a member of his family, while committing another act of evil."

Boeno's exhibition also features half a dozen other works. Each is titled after the name of an honor killing victim. A wax sculpture inspired by the organic forms of Louise Bourgeois, with large holes penetrating the piece, commemorates a girl executed after refusing marriage to a much older uncle. In the middle of the gallery, a yellow spike suspends from the ceiling against another standing on the floor, inspired by a horrific honor killing of a young mother perpetrated by a 15-year-old boy.

"Honor killing is truly a tragedy in Turkey and many other parts of the world," history professor Zeynep Turkyilmaz said. "I think it is really great that Sera is bringing this issue to the attention of students and faculty through her amazing artwork."

Apart from making others aware of honor killing by her artwork, Boeno has also set up a donation box that will go toward the Turkish Girl's Education fund to help stifle honor killing through the effort of educating more young women.

"I will continue doing this work as I move on to my senior seminar. There are so many people that need their stories to be told," Boeno said. "If women are more educated, they have more means of getting themselves out of their situation."

"Tore" will be on display through the spring.