Esra Gülmen: “Berlin is a city for aliens”.

Esra Gülmen: “Berlin is a city for aliens”.

A NATIVE OF ISTANBUL, ESRA GÜLMEN IS IN WHAT SHE CALLS A "LOVE LOVE RELATIONSHIP" WITH BERLIN. AS A GLOBALLY RECOGNIZED ARTIST AND DESIGNER, ESRA'S CREATIVITY IS MAKING NOISE FOR WORK THAT EVOLVES AROUND HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY AND DISARMS THE TINY STRUGGLES OF EVERYDAY LIFE - INCLUDING LIVING AND WORKING IN A NEW COUNTRY. BALANCING HER CREATIVE LIFE OF SOLO ART EXHIBITIONS WITH HER ROLE AS HEAD OF DESIGN AT HEIMAT, BERLIN, WE SPOKE WITH ESRA ABOUT HER INSPIRING JOURNEY FROM ISTANBUL TO FRANKFURT, AMSTERDAM AND BERLIN, WHY HER WORK FEEDS ON THE CITY'S CHAOS AND A FEW FAVORITE PLACES.

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ON CITIES YOU HAVE LIVED AROUND THE GLOBE

I moved from Istanbul to Frankfurt around 8 years ago, which is where I started my career as a designer in Germany. I then moved back to Istanbul, then left and moved to Amsterdam, and then three years ago I moved to Berlin.

ON CREATIVE LIFE IN BERLIN 

The biggest motivation for me living in Berlin is that I can be myself. It has been a liberating experience for me. But being from Turkey, my motivation for moving wasn’t so much “I want to go and live in another culture and be inspired”, but that “I need a good country to live in as a creative person”. In Turkey I feel like I can’t fit in culturally, it’s growing very conservative with a low quality of life, bad traffic, journalists are in prison and there is no freedom of speech. I left Istanbul and first moved to Frankfurt, then Amsterdam. I was trying to find a city I can build my future in.

Portrait top of page: Esra Gulmen photographed by Burcu Karademir. Above left: Esra x face mask. Top right and bottom: Artwork from Esra’s solo exhibition ‘Don’t I Look Turkish?’, exploring questions she has been asked as a Turkish native living in Germany. Artwork by Esra Gülmen. Images courtesy Esra Gülmen.

ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH BERLIN

I have a love love relationship with Berlin. I’m really in love with the city.

ON CHAOS AND INSPIRATION

Berlin has more chaos in it than say Oslo or Hamburg which have a super high quality of life, but that would be boring for me, because I feed my creativity with chaos and problems. In my art, I try to use humour to deal with problems. I’ve realised that when I’m in love and happy I don’t create as much! I’ve often thought that in England so much great music has come out of the country because the weather was so gloomy.

In Turkey I feel like I can’t fit in culturally, it’s growing very conservative with a low quality of life, bad traffic, journalists are in prison and there is no freedom of speech..The biggest motivation for me living in Berlin is that I can be myself.

ON ‘THINGS I GET ASKED BECAUSE I’M TURKISH’

I get asked a lot of questions in Berlin about being Turkish, and while there is no bad intention behind people asking kind of cliche questions, I decided to have some fun with this experience of mine. I like to play with cliches with humour. When I lived in Amsterdam I also got asked once “Does Turkey have a sea?”.

Clothing and artwork from popular solo exhibition ‘Don’t I Look Turkish?’. Artwork by Esra Gülmen. Images courtesy Esra Gülmen.

ON HOW BERLIN INSPIRES YOU

The quality of life in Germany and Berlin is amazing, but Berlin is also chaotic, rough and punk, which is what I like about it. There’s not a classical beauty that you find in cities like Amsterdam or Venice. Berlin has a lot of contradictions. There is a saying that Berlin is not beautiful but sexy. I am also full of contradictions so I feel like the perfect fit in Berlin!

ON WHAT IS UNIQUE TO BERLINS CREATIVE CULTURE

As an artist, I think a general feeling is often that you don’t fit in – You don’t fit in a conventional friends group, your family, city or country, you often feel that you’re an “alien”. But Berlin is a city where you feel that even as an alien, you feel it is your city. You never feel like a stranger in Berlin. If you want to walk around naked, it’s ok. If you wear an astronaut costume, it’s really ok in Berlin –  no one will judge you! So this is like heaven for us. Whatever you do or want to be, I feel the city welcomes you. Berlin is a city for aliens. 

If you want to walk around naked, it’s ok. If you wear an astronaut costume, it’s really ok… Berlin is a city where you feel that even as an alien, you feel it is your city. You never feel like a stranger in Berlin.

ON YOUR ‘MOUNTAINS’ ARTWORK 

My friends were creating a group show, and it was called ‘Mountains’. I thought, how boring, what can I do with that? I’m not really a big hiking or nature person, so I don’t have any big story about mountains. And this is what ended up being the inspiration for the artwork and series. It is one of my favorite artworks in recent years. 

Top: ‘Mountains’, ‘Tree’s’ and ‘Rivers’ artwork series. Bottom: Esra working in her studio. Artwork by Esra Gülmen. Images courtesy Esra Gülmen.

ON CREATING FROM HOME RIGHT NOW 

For my mental health it’s been nice being at home during CV19, but because my art is based on stress and problems, I need that. I can’t really create stuff having a super peaceful day at home, it doesn’t work on me like that. I’m not so much someone that finds inspiration in museums, but more by real life problems and experiences, also by good conversations with friends when you can discuss some deep stuff, and sometimes by comedy too. 

I can’t really create stuff having a super peaceful day at home, it doesn’t work on me like that… I feed my creativity with chaos and problems. 

ON BALANCING YOUR ART AND HEAD OF DESIGN ROLE 

I work as Head of Design at Heimat in Berlin, and also create my own art and exhibitions. Two years ago I opened my second solo show in Hamburg. The team at Heimat are really respectful and understanding of my art and collaborations with different brands, and helping me with that balance. During CV19 I’ve had a little more time while working from home, but I can’t actually say I’ve produced more artwork as a result. I find that being stressed and have limited time I actually get more creative.

ON CHALLENGES MOVING TO BERLIN

It’s not easy moving to another country, and not something I would recommend to everyone to be honest. Moving to Germany I had a lot of official documents and visas papers written in German, which was a challenge for me not speaking German.

‘Stupils’ sculpture series by Esra Gülmen. “In a quest for happiness, artist, designer, illustrator, and now also pharmacist, Esra Gülmen dives into the correlation between happiness and stupidity”. Images courtesy Esra Gülmen.

ON CREATIVE INSPIRATION IN BERLIN

Galleries: König Gallery, Boros Collection and C/O Berlin.

Art supply store: Modulor (heaven for artists, a huuuuuge art supply store. I always tell my friends visiting that they have to go there, it has anything you can imagine to create something.

Design stores: Andreas Murkudis and Voo Store.

ON FOOD & DRINK IN BERLIN

For dinner: Paris Bar, Borchardt, Lutter & Wegner and Mädchenitaliener.

For breakfast : Cafe Fleury and Daluma. 

ON ONE THING TO DO IF JUST PASSING THROUGH

A walk from Mitte to Kurzberg, and Museum Island is super beautiful.

ON A SOUND THAT MAKES YOU THINK OF BERLIN

When I first moved to Berlin, I was just listening to 80’s pop. And you know the Stranglers? I was listening to their track ‘Strange Little Girl’. “Strange little girl, where are you going”. The Stranglers are British of course but this song feels so much like Berlin to me. Berlin could have been a strange little girl itself when I first arrived. 

ON WINDOW OR AISLE

Window. I like to have my own space and also take pictures from the window –  I need to do something.

ON BERLIN IN ONE WORD

Rough, in the best way.

Inside Esra’s studio. Images courtesy Esra Gülmen.

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Nuggets in this interview

inspiration

König Galerie, Berlin

"Galleries: König Galerie, Boros Collection and C/O Berlin".

–Esra Gulmen

inspiration

C/O berlin

"Galleries: König Gallery, Boros Collection and C/O Berlin".

–Esra Gulmen

food and drink

Paris Bar, Berlin

"For dinner: Paris Bar, Borchardt, Lutter & Wegner and Mädchenitaliener".

–Esra Gulmen

food and drink

Lutter & Wegner, Berlin

"For dinner: Paris Bar, Borchardt, Lutter & Wegner and Mädchenitaliener".

–Esra Gulmen

need to know

Modular, Berlin

"Art supply store called Modulor - heaven for artists".

–Esra Gulmen

need to know

Voo Store, Berlin

"Design stores: Andreas Murkudis and Voo Store".

–Esra Gulmen

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