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CULTURAL DEMOCRACY & REPRESENTATION

TALKING TO NEJLA Y. YATKIN: A CULTURAL DEMOCRACY IN THE PERFORMING ARTS INTERVIEW

The Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, led by Kyoung H. Park, has designed an artist survey to invite artists to share their experiences working in the field in order to open up public discussions regarding diversity and inclusion in the performing arts. Over the course of the next few months, we will highlight interviews with artists who are in conversation with the Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, and we invite members of our community to help us gather more information by completing our survey here. Our team will synthesize our findings and share these interviews and our findings online.

Nejla Y. Yatkin

Nejla Y. Yatkin

1.  How do you identify yourself? How does your identity influence or inform your work?

To be honest I don’t really identify myself as this or that I am a human first, a woman and an artist. I create works that inspire, interest and touch me. Freedom of expression is of great interest to me and so I don’t like to limit myself. My identities are fluid.

2. Do you face challenges in the field based on the way you identify yourself?

The field of dance is a challenge but I like challenges. I think my only challenge is that I don’t fit into a box but it’s a good challenge, it’s kind of liberating. I am not style driven but rather project driven. I use the body as a means of communication to convey a message/idea.

3.  Where do you (or can you) locate representations of your culture [community] within contemporary performance?

I like to connect and invite people into my work. I love to express myself with the body and not separate myself from people with my work and so my themes tend to be more Universal and my work speaks to a broad audience. I think/believe that I create communities wherever I go. For example, I went to Tegucigalpa in 2011 for a residency and created a site specific piece entitled Dancing with Tegucigalpa. The city is very poor and dangerous and people are afraid to walk in their own city. During my residency I interviewed artist, scholars and intellectuals about the city and what the like and dislike about it etc…

Those responses inspired my site specific dance that engaged the audience to interact with the city that they never had before. After the project the people said that I showed them another side of their city. They were so focused on the negative that they forgot to see the beauty. Within 3 weeks I created a community that was inspired by their environment and ready to take action to improve it.

4. Are there moments in which your cultural identity [community] is misrepresented or underrepresented, and how do you address this?

I grew up in Germany and I have Turkish roots. There are not many female choreographers represented from the Middle East because it’s not part of the culture but I am hoping to create bridges. It’s not so much of misrepresentation or underrepresentation rather a not knowing and not having access. We need access to more funding for individual artists to create works of art, to inspire and to empower people and communities

5. Have you been a working artist in another culture [community]? Has this experience exposed something about current practices that we can learn from?

Yes, I have worked in many cultures from around the world and I have learned that if you open, listen and engage with respect to other cultures you always find a common thread to collaborate from. Human emotion and feeling are the same everywhere you go.

6. Have you worked in other cities/regions and can you tell us about the reception of your work there in comparison to NYC?

Yes, I have performed in many other cities in the US and around the world and the reception was always very welcoming. I have only had positive audiences everywhere I have been even in NY.

7. Describe an ideal situation in which your work is presented. Is there anything you’d like your audience to know about you before viewing your work?

I love dancing, I love to share dances, I love dancing with other people and I love to collaborate with other artist. For me every situation I am in is ideal. I dance and have danced in Opera houses, black box theatres, concert halls, streets, gallery space, ware houses, beaches, churches, castles, prisons, abandoned houses, cemeteries, subways etc. Where ever there is a space I dance. Every situation is ideal if you make it ideal.

Choreographer/Dancer Nejla Y. Yatkin originally from Berlin, Germany with Turkish roots explores the beauty as well as complexity of memory, migration, transformation, identity and multiculturalism through movement. This is achieved by drawing upon diverse traditions of dance, cultures and medium as well as utilizing subjects that are at once universal and timeless. Her recent dances have been inspired by stories and events of significant places in the world. Such was the case with the Berlin Wall Project and Dancing with Cities (a traveling site specific work around Urban sites), which traveled to Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, France, Germany, New York and now is going to go to Puerto Rico, Peru and Colombia in 2013.

For 2012/13 season, she was awarded a National Performance Network Creation Fund co-commission by Dance Place and the Bates Dance Festival. This year she also received the Award for Overall Excellence in Choreography from the New York International Fringe Festival for 2012 and 2011, a recipient of the 2012 Forth Fund Award as well as was awarded the National Performance Network Creation Fund in 2011, a 2009 Special Project recipient of the Princess Grace Award, a 2008 Princess Grace Choreography Fellow (awarded by the Princess Grace Foundation in New York City). Nejla Yatkin was an Artist Resident at the University of Notre Dame from 2008 to 2012 and from 2001 to 2008 she was a tenured Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

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About kyounghpark

Artistic Director, Pacific Beat Collective

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