UmAy Initiative hosted a highly anticipated and well-planned weekend (06-08 March 2021) with wonderful young people as part of the globally celebrated International Women’s Day/Week/Month. We also welcomed Spring, shaking off the dust and fatigue that a protracted guest called Covid-19 brought to our lives.  

The themes and genres were music, cinema, literature, mindful body movements, eco-friendly living practices, including vegan cooking and baking. Below are some highlights:

A Talk with Sinem Tas

We welcomed our speaker from Lisbon, Sinem Tas, a photographer and documentary maker (My Kaaba is Human). We share a common concern: negative representations of the displaced and we are critical of the overflowing narratives on refugees on various platforms. Tas’ work was comforting due to her sensitivity and focus on the human.

Aeden: An Example of Ecological Literature in Turkish (by Ozlem)

The talk introduced the basic terms in ecological literary criticism and its interdisciplinary history, and summarized a rare example of sci-fi/cli-fi, Aeden (2018) by Azra Kohen. Whether literature can serve as a tool for eco-activism was another major question that the author poses in contrasting two planets as examples of utopia and dystopia with her strong belief in evolutionary transformation.

Daisies (1966) and Avant-garde Technicality of Feminist Cinema (by Gunsu)

Daisies is a Czechoslovak surrealist film written and directed by Věra Chytilová. Similar to Aeden, its creator was a woman who was very critical of the world she got stuck with then. An exemplar of the Czech New Wave movement, Daisies made all of us question the meaning and the fragmentary texture of life and womanhood.

Live Concert by First-Year MA Students (Istanbul Technical University Centre for Advanced Studies in Music, ITU MIAM)

We watched an online concert where two compositions by Yavuz Tilek were featured. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about music and ask questions about the pieces to Yavuz, the composer. Once again, our safe space allowed room for plenty of ‘silly’ questions! 

Introduction to Kundalini Yoga: Ipek and Gunes prepared two professional sessions for the beginnings. An energizing and exploratory time that was followed by green tea.

A Mini-Documentary/Vlog (2021) by Alice, a former UmAy volunteer/traveler 

We discussed the representational issues of women travelers from the West who keep reproducing certain stereotypes (found in the past) while creating positive awareness on the “dangerous” Middle East. We concluded that a collective of female voices is necessary for the narrative to successfully avoid reproducing gender and geocultural stereotypes.

Closing remarks: Valuable feedback on our time together, on sharing a residential educational safe space (UmAy), how reliable and creative spaces can be utilized as alternatives and/or “companions” of campuses. Covid-19 surely posed major challenges but also showed us the importance of flexibility. Thank you everyone who invested their time and labor and shared their positive attitudes, ideas, skills, gifts, and experiences.

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