Some time ago Serina Haratoka stood in front of the building of UACE Barcelona, which is a center for professional cinematographic and theatrical studies in the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. It was the search for greater artistic expression and a love of photography that led her to this boutique film school. As someone who had always been into arts, she never thought to become an artist, instead, she naturally turned into one through the education she received and the works she produced professionally.
Haratoka was schooled at the Liceo Italiano Statale Istanbul, or Private Italian High School in Istanbul, where she became interested in art history, mythology, archaeology and painting. Starting with the compulsory technical and pencil drawing lessons in this school, her relationship with painting has continued throughout her school life. Following high school, Haratoka received her education in architecture at Istanbul’s Yıldız Technical University, but the art of photography captured her interest since her first steps into the university, leading her to work on analog and darkroom photography during her student days.
Following her time at university, she worked as a tour guide thanks to her acumen for foreign languages, cultivated since high school, and her great passion for art history. Traveling all over the world and getting to know different cultures with this profession, she eventually found herself in the arms of art again. The training she received in directorship and cinematography at UACE became her second university degree.
Haratoka’s work in photography continued for many years as well, both artistically and commercially. But the camera began to feel inadequate for her expressionist spirit, which led her back to the beginning of the road, that is, the art of painting. Her long journey in art incorporates many disciplines, leading her to produce multidisciplinary works. While she independently exhibits her work in the Kavacık neighborhood in Istanbul, she also participates in fairs and exhibitions with many galleries and organizations at home and abroad.
I had to chance to get to know Haratoka at one of these shows. "The Other Stories" was opened in the arts and cultural complex Santralistanbul, situated within the campus of Bilgi University, and brought together works by 50 artists to highlight the concept of migration and to think about its internal and transborder aspects.
Haratoka attended the show with her art installation "Requiem." After the curator of the exhibition, Denizhan Özer, mentioned this exhibition to her, she was encouraged to embark on another, more introspective, journey into the history of her ancestors.
Haratoka, who is of Circassian origin, said that migration and exile are issues about which she thinks often due to the terrible conditions her ancestors lived through in the Circassian Exile of 1864. "While similar events are still taking place in different geographies around the world today and Anatolian lands are still home to people who are separated from their homelands, I think not only artists but our whole country should think about the concepts of migration and exile," she added.
With an invitation to this exhibition, hundreds of stories that she had heard since her childhood or learned and photographed in her travels in the Caucasus began flying through her mind. Haratoka even dedicated her very first exhibition to her ancestors. "Kabardino-Balkaria and the Circassians," in which she exhibited the photographs she took during a long trip to the homeland of the Caucasus in 2014, was essentially a documentary about the expulsion of Circassians and Circassian culture. Haratoka sees this preliminary exhibition as a returning to her roots.
The expulsion of Circassians occurred during an ambitious campaign by the Russian Empire to extend its borders despite tough resistance by locals in the region, including Circassians, Abkhazians, Chechens and others. The period was also toward the end of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, whose clout had long since spread to the Caucasus. The resistance of the locals was brutally quashed through massacres of their populations and their subsequent exile. Most Circassians were herded onto ships to be transferred from the northeastern shores of the Black Sea to Anatolia. Thousands perished due to hunger and thirst, and many others died when their ships sank in the waves of the Black Sea.
During the months of the creation of "Requiem" for "The Other Stories," Haratoka also drowned in those waves for days and nights in tears. "Requiem" is a work that she dedicates to people who died at sea during the expulsion of Circassians, but especially to mothers and their children. It depicts a small, green paper ship model on wild waves on a rotating platform. Soft, emotional music played on the accordion accompanies the small ship while it revolves on the platform. The artist said that she wanted to add a song that she has loved since childhood to this dark storm, as dance and music are indispensable expressions of the Circassian culture.
"In fact, the song in the work, 'Si Nane' ("My Mother"), is a piece in which a child describes his mother's love in perfect harmony with nature, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it despite its cheerful tones. Tambi Cimuk, who is also the child of a Syrian and Circassian immigrant family, performed the song with her accordion to give the song a unique feel giving it a unique version for my 'Requiem.' As the children of two families living in the diaspora separated from the motherland, we honored our ancestors together."
Amid the emotional weight of the work, I also learned that Haratoka preferred to use a medium that she has never used in this kind of work before: thread. Thousand of meters of thread in "Requiem" connect the people who lost their lives in the Black Sea to their past and future.
Haratoka, on the other hand, runs a social responsibility project called "Kültür Mantarı Sanat Hareketi." She carries out various activities with her 10-year-old son in order to increase social, artistic and cultural awareness as part of this project. Within the scope of the work, they have orchestrated different activities such as the seminars they held with Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB), many schools and universities, and the art history videos they prepared for Eba TV, a Turkish national educational television network.
"I think it is very valuable to share information by blending it with emotions and ideas in a way that people of all education levels can understand. With his interest in art and art history and his love of research, my son Alp works like a magic key in this project, especially in reaching children," Haratoka said.
She also has been working on a special artwork series called "Sacred Colors" for the last three years. Noting that ancient civilizations used bright colors in their lives even a hundred thousand years ago, Haratoka said: "I think the effort to reach those colors and the search for different stones, mines and minerals by scanning the nature one by one is a great story. I think it is a great pressure for humanity to be condemned to live with the pale and lifeless colors chosen for us today."
Haratoka admires the balancing power of colors in nature and says that colors are the biggest inspiration for her. "I think that each one of them should be reintroduced to life like a medicine that is good for people, but this information is arranged to manipulate people's emotions in modern societies, everything is turned into a marketing item today." This is why she started the "Sacred Colors" series, which she describes as a collection of vibrant energy and frequency of colors on canvas. She aims to create awareness of colors once again. "The door I want to open with my works, like an entrance card to the world of dreams, creates a space where deficiencies are completed, minds stretch and emotions flow," she added.
You can visit Serina Haratoka's "Requiem" at "The Other Stories" until Feb. 7 along with many other inspiring works. Stay tuned for her future works!