in Oslo Freedom Forum
Speech of Standing Man in Oslo
Hello, I am Erdem Gunduz. I am dancer and freelance choreographer. People know me as “The Standing Man”, There is phrase in English. -This is how it is done-
In 2013, the Turkish government issued a ban on demonstrations on Taksim Square in Istanbul, in that moment, for eight hours, I stood silently with out any movement. Then in that moment my motionless protest unleashed a tsunami of activity on Twitter.
Today, in Turkey, the government is systematically demolishing human rights and freedom of expression every day. It is hard to speak as freely as you think. All forms of media communication are controlled. I also see that money, not humanity, is what matters to the Turkish government. For example, the issue of workers' rights does not matter at all for those who own the capital.
As Standing Man, I became what people described as a symbol for equality and freedom, but in the beginning, my concept was not to deliver a performance. My aim was not to perform a piece, although I am a performer, dancer and choreographer. My concern is what you can say with only the body?
Sometimes the attitude of a body may be more meaningful than the attitude of language.
My protest arose from my keen disappointment of the bias of the Turkish media and their failure to report the protests in Gezi Park and Taksim Square in a correct and objective way. I also sought to highlight police brutality during these events. My aim was, at the same time, I wanted to demonstrate my respect for the principle and ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, The founder of the Turkish Republic. His concept was “peace at home, peace in the world” ( He point out that people in peace). Which is needed in middle-east.
During the days of Gezi Park, people needed hope. My peaceful gesture was to give them that little hope. After seeing what was happening on television or social media, people came to Taksim Square. And they saw me. This was important because, after a first moment of excitement, there was no longer any hope among those who were protesting. Because, things looked dark.
I have to summarize what happened while I was standing still. There are various ways to perceive what I did. The way it is perceived depends on the point of view of the observer. My individual reason is similar to those of others asking for more freedom.
So I decided to do something, too. Nobody had told me before that this was a form of silent protest, that this was a performance or activism or "artivism" or whatever. I cannot judge what I've done by myself. I just did it because I was there as a citizen who lives in that country. I simply believe in individual actions.
My purpose of doing this was not doing a performance or creating a piece of art. It is also the same for the understanding of fine arts.A few hours later, people began to form the reproductions of the Standing Man. Like pop art. Soon it became clear that this was not meant to be a performance, but a reaction against the media institutions who did not cover the protests in a rightful way, and a reaction against police violence. This was not a performance anymore, and all the information about my personal background, about who exactly I am has now gained multiple meanings. I was there, like a medium that transfers the social conscience back to the society itself.
I felt pain in my chest for my country. I wanted to reach Taksim Square. So I passed the zone forbidden to the protesters by the police and I entered alone, as if I were a tourist. So I reached the square. It was June 17th 2013. I found myself in front of Ataturk Cultural Center and there I realized that it would be a significant action standing there. And from that moment everything worked automatically for me; my reasons were not different from those of other protesters. I did not go there to do something powerful. Only after standing, I realized that this was the right time and place to do something. At that time, I could not imagine how then it would grow.
People have shared on Facebook and Twitter the hash tag #duranadam #standing man. Then some of them came to the streets, others joined the action of continuously standing still, and they were still standing where they were... Why did people follow this man? My Standing Man protest and my potential immobility and silence proved to be stronger than anyone could imagine.
Sometimes I have the feeling that I have to do something... We have to do something before the reason comes. Because, when the reason comes, it will already be too late to do something.
I’d like to quote Professor Peter Weibel on spontaneous mass protest and artivism: “The new forms of spontaneous mass protests by individuals have shown, especially in the case of the Arab Spring, how at least for brief moments in history, established power systems can be annulled. Problems of democracy and the economy, above all corruption, are also foci of global activist protests just as are a call for adherence to human rights, peaceful solutions for global conflicts, a sound immigration policy, health care, protection of animals and the environment.”
My individual protest of a dancer was able to remind the world about the power of art and the way it is used.
Exactly a year and 4 months ago, we saw how passivity can be turned into a powerful action. It was a way of creating empathy and awareness of the situation among people. These kinds of individual acts have a great impact on the fight for freedom and human rights. We have the chance to witness that these problems are not local but global. On those days I felt the need to do something... and my body did. We have to do something before the reason comes. Because, as I said when the reason comes, it will already be too late to do something. As a working employee you fight for the right of the unemployed, as a healthy person you fight against the problems of the health system. As a free person, you fight for freedom.
In Turkey there is no freedom of access to information, there is no freedom of speech and thought. First of all, if citizens cannot control the natural resources of their own country, they are not free. In Gezi park people fought for their freedom. They resisted and some of them died.
In memory of all who expressed their beliefs and lost their lives, please think about how you can take a stand in a powerful way that will change our future for the better.