I am turkish, I am Honest, I am Diligent  - Kwangju

2002, video installation, 21’28”
42 Turkish School Uniform,
Developed for 4th Gwangju Biennial Korea


I am Turkish, I am Honest, I am Diligent was first developed in 1998 for a secondary school in Germany. For the 4th Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 2002 it was realized under different cultural conditions. Esra Ersen asked a whole class of a Corean primary school, 42 students, to wear the same uniforms that their counterparts in Turkey were obliged to. Their written impressions of this one-week experience were later superimposed onto those black uniforms, which were finally exhibited. 


As the word “uniform” already suggests they were once designed by the ultra-modernist State policies of Turkey to keep the young brains of the country within the moral constraints of a homogenous, “classless” nation. The title of the work, the first three lines of an oath that the children in primary schools have to shout out twice a week also reflects this strictly formative ideology of education. 


Here, the emerging composition was not one exposing the converse elements of the social structures as in Germany and Turkey in the first version. One the contrary it could be said that the similarities between South Korea and Turkey were at play. Both countries have been instrumentalized as dependable border posts by the Western block during the cold war, and both had faced military coups. While there was no uniform requirement in primary schools in South Korea, the existence of similar oath of loyalty ceremonies and the uniform requirement in high school resulted in an exposition of similarities between these two distant geographies. 


The repetition of the same project in different cultural contexts renders visible a key strategy Ersen employs in her later works: creating a script or a mechanism for interaction between people, but consequently withdrawing to observe how people begin to shape this given setting, to approach their divergence from the initial script and reactions leading elsewhere not as a glitch, but as a complementary element.