Freedom Book Fair: Canan Marasligil

This article is published on magazine, written by Tine Lavent.

She is writing a book about translation and why she translates. In French, dotted with Turkish words when her heart calls for it. Canan Marasligil’s poems, artistic practice, and workshops revolve around creating space. A safe space, to exchange thoughts about women’s rights, migration, languages and translation, female desire, writing and representation. At the 2019 edition of the Freedom Book Fair, she will moderate a talk about feminist poetry, hold a poetry translation workshop, and lead a discussion about reclaiming space through writing. “I’m not interested in someone saying thanks to the Dutch freedom you have space, as opposed to Afghanistan where you are in danger.”

With the City in Translation project, Canan Marasligil took fellow modern-day flâneurs on a walk through the city, on a friendly hunt for languages. The quest led their gaze from the walls’ bricks to paving stones and back, to collect the written word from T-shirts of passers-by, signboards above shop windows, and plastic wraps among trash left on the sidewalk. With the urban landscape as a canvas, the workshop led participants to observe how many languages actually flaunt through cities—and to imagine or document how this came about.

This endeavor started in 2015, yet the writer/translator has not slowed down since. The focal point of (almost) everything she does is, as simple and complicated as it is, words. Languages. “The reason I translate is very personal,” she says. “I grew up in Brussels, in a Turkish family. This means I grew up in a country surrounded by lots of stereotypes about being Turkish and being from a Muslim country. When you grow up in such an environment you always feel the need to say: no, I’m more than what you think! I’m more than that!” This was the very reason why Marasligil, at a young age already, started translating. Mostly songs, and other scattered fragments from Turkish popular culture. “Translation has always been a necessity for me. The older I got, the more I understood the power of translation and the power of letting other people know that we have many languages in our lives, and that this is a form of richness. My mother tongue is —if you wish— Turkish, but I grew up primarily in French and my French is better than my Turkish. So if you ask me, French is also my mother tongue. Yet I was told that I couldn’t write in French because it is not my mother tongue. I try to break through the idea that writing and translating literature is only for a certain elite, who ‘master’ certain tools.”

“I don’t believe in mastering a language. When we talk about mastering a language, we become exclusive. It’s possible to do wonderful things with languages without ‘mastering’ them. It’s a very problematic word because it excludes many, many people using the language. What about people who have learned it as a third or fourth language? Not allowing people to use a language is a way of silencing them. I’m more interested in what people have to say, than how.”


Migration, nationality, identities. She uses questions about translation to tackle these issues. In between the Book Fair of Arras (France) and a translation conference at the University of Amsterdam, Marasligil will join the Freedom Book Fair in line with her work on freedom of expression, artistic freedom, and social justice. Leading a panel on feminist voices through poetry, she will explore how women from Honduras and Afghanistan write poems, and the topics they write about. “I love to look at different places in the world and how, through poetry, voices in a variety of contexts find a common language. It creates a common space where we are able to go beyond certain issues and move people to a basic human level. Poetry has the power to transcend discourses. It’s emotion. It goes to the heart of how people feel and I believe in that power, very much so.”

Inspired by Lety Elvir’s book on women’s poems of protest and resistance from Honduras, Marasligil has carefully selected a number of poems for a translation workshop that reflects her anti-elitist train of thought. “I’ll propose a somewhat literal translation of these poems. People participating don’t necessarily have to know the original language they were written in. I’ll explain what they are about, and based on these tools, they can translate the poems themselves, free to create something new, far from a perfect translation. We’ll use this workshop as an excuse to share our views about poetry, resilience, feminism…” Marasligil bursts out laughing. “We are breaking the rules of language and translation —we care about the process itself— and create something brand new.”

History Geography is the one poem she continuously recommends. It is written by Turkish Armenian poet Karin Karakaşlı. “About the Armenian genocide,” Marasligil adds. “But when you read it, it can touch upon so many other things. That’s what I love about poetry, and this poem in particular. It shows how land doesn’t belong to anyone, and that we ought to think beyond geographies. We could be more than geography, than nations.”

“What can be done to help our colleagues in countries where freedom of expression is at stake, without putting them in danger, and without patronising? That is what the Freedom Book Fair is doing in The Hague, without saying we are here to save you, but more we are here to create a shared space and be equals.” Based on her experience as a literary curator, Canan Marasligil is aware of the pitfalls of puzzling over a critical program about freedom of expression. “I’m not interested in someone saying thanks to the Dutch freedom you have space, as opposed to Afghanistan where you are in danger. The team behind the Freedom Book Fair is careful when choosing thematics, and stay away from stereotypes. They also question themselves and their own role to create true solidarity and action. Because solidarity without action, without creating space, is useless.”

Canan Marasligil @ Freedom Book Fair

Freedom Book Fair — 2,3,4 May 2019 — Migratie Museum (Hoge Zand 42, The Hague)

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