Serhat Tanyolacar’s art has put him in fear for his life. He traveled to his native Turkey earlier this year, donned a traditional kaftan printed with the likenesses of former Turkish leaders, and protested tyranny. In Turkey, he could have been imprisoned. “I was afraid of that,” he said, “for the impact it would have on my family,” which includes a ten-year-old son with autism. Tanyolacar was ready to renounce his Turkish citizenship, but the openness with which the Turkish audience received his work, caused him to reconsider, he said at an April 12 speaking engagement in Okoboji, Iowa.
Tanyolacar said his intent was to be a #blacklivesmatter ally. Having experienced discrimination and marginalization that caused him to leave Turkey at age 24, he felt an affinity for American students he teaches at the University.
“One choice we have,” Tanyolocar said, “is to only do art that does not offend anyone.”
The other choice, he added, “is to keep dialogue open.” Tanyolocar said the university administration opened a time of dialogue the next day. No one from the administration attended. Some students attended, and a couple of faculty members.
“One of the mandates of a college professor is to teach creative, rational thought to the next generation of world-changers,” Tanyolocar said. “This university determined that impact — the fact that students felt afraid — trumped freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression. It is difficult to know what an art and art history teacher should model and teach students of art in our age.”