Esna Su on the refugee crisis and creating art from traditional Turkish craft

15.09.20. Sarabande Foundation, London

Esna Su is an artist and jewellery designer, who was brought up in Turkey, near the Syrian border, before arriving in London in 2003.

Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2015, she has developed a reputation for her extraordinary pieces that attempt to highlight the plight of refugees. Her wearable sculptures curve and bulge around the body, using traditional Turkish techniques of hasir, twining, needlework and crochet, as well as materials such as leather, cotton and paper rush.

In her collection entitled The Burden I, for example, knitted vegetable tanned leather cord is moulded around some of her most cherished objects, leaving hollow shapes that in the artist’s words ‘contain memories and the loss of the past’.

It is stunning, deeply moving work that combines craft with protest and a deep-seated sense of empathy. As one writer put it: ‘Su actively seeks out both the horror and the beauty in her own cultural history as a way of unpicking contemporary issues surrounding cultural identities.’

In this episode, we talk about growing up in Turkey and the culture shock of coming to London; how the Syrian war has changed her home city of Antioch; why her mother didn’t want her to weave; the importance of memory in her pieces; and how making helped her recover from the death of her brother.

It’s a delicate, and often, really quite touching interview.

Find out more about Esna Su

Su’s work combines traditional Turkish craft techniques of weaving, twining, and crochet that were handed down by her mother.

Su trained in jewellery at Central Saint Martins and describes her pieces as ‘body sculpture’. Image: John McGrath.

The Burden I series sees vegetable tanned leather cord knitted around objects that are important to the artist. 

Su has used dance as a medium to express the meaning behind her pieces. All images courtesy of the artist.