Resident: Irem Çoban

Irem Çoban, Women in Proverbs series: A woman who has big buttocks is the favourite one like a food with sauce  (2020)  Turkish proverb © Courtesy of the artist.

Project concept: Women in Proverbs

As a social phenomenon, gender manifests itself with the acceptance of the inequality between the sexes. In the words of Judith Butler, “when gender inequality is stabilized as a person’s quality, it takes the form of gender; While acting as a relationship between individuals, it takes the form of sexuality. Gender is the solidified state of the sexualization of inequality between men and women ”(Butler, 2012: 17).

From this point of view, gender includes the cultural meanings that the individual’s body assumes. Simone de Beauvoir in her work The Second Sex uses the expression as: “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes, a woman.” (Beauvoir, 1973). This expression of Beauvoir shows that women and their roles are completely created by society. According to Beauvoir, the phenomenon of gender is not a fixed identity, it is an element that has been formed over time and formed by the repetition of movements (Butler, 1988 accessed 10.02.2021).

Stating that the individual is born with definitions and identities are created, Bauman also makes statements that support Beauvoir’s thought: “Definitions tell you who you are. Identities, on the other hand, draw you towards what you are not yet but can be (Bauman, 2000: 102).

In the light of these theoretical findings summarized, the subject that I want to research and the work that I want to realize is to visualize the proverbs related to women in almost every culture around the world through Minike Schipper’s book titled “Women in Proverbs Worldwide“. I want to complete my idea generation phase, where you can see the drafts via Instagram and Behance, with the effective and generative display of the digital illustrations I think to draw about the proverbs and the video works which I want to make. My main concern is that the project creates only one-way communication among the participants who will see the work. For this reason, I want to use different video techniques in a way that supports the subject. Especially in order to refer to the increasing violence of women today, I want to reflect the drawing and video works representing proverbs on various figures by projection and to enable the participants to face this situation through the work.

Women in Proverbs

This series of digital illustrations and performances explore the place of women in society: a construct defined by different geographies, languages and beliefs, and at the same time a common and powerfully reverberating conversation.

This residency continues to explore internal energies through a combination of digital drawing, video, photography and motion graphics. In these works focusing on gender and identity issues, the forms explore the complexities of representation in feminist art. In this context, the series conveys the inherent multidimensional character of the human and reveals the secrets stored in the hidden attics of the mind.

Using Minike Schipper’s book Women in Proverbs Worldwide as a baseline offers a global culture outlook through centuries and, with astonishment, we may find similar insights related to the female perception.

In a society ruled by the patriarchal social order, social screams of the suppressed, namely women and different gender identities, ought to be amplified as a means of purification as well as an expression of the inner world. It is important to make the known but ignored visible.

As David Lynch has stated, there is a wonderful ocean of happiness and consciousness that the individual can reach by diving into themselves. This ocean is an incredibly important resource” – İrem Çoban.

Curator’s words: Women in Proverbs, Proverbs in the age of Digital Art

Isil Çelik  |  Ed.  Peter Traynor | 16 September 2021

Wherever you are from and whichever language you speak, just think of a proverb that objectifies, disparages or villainizes women. Most probably, you will come up with one, if not with many. The Digital Art exhibition Women in Proverbs provides a colourful criticism for the ways proverbs around the world depict women. 

This year, Agora Digital Art September resident is İrem Çoban, a Turkish Digital Art artist and academic. İrem’s art practice merges illustration, videography and cinema with a focus on gender studies. Through her work, Irem brings in a critical visual narrative of the issues women face worldwide.

Proverbs are known as brief moral guides to life. As a matter of fact, they communicate perceived truths and commonly shared values of the culture for which they speak. Despite being cultural, they lay claim to truth and make a random cultural idea sound like absolute wisdom. This way, proverbs don’t only mirror cultural values but also function as ideological tools that transmit and revitalise those values within and in-between generations.

It is not surprising that patriarchal cultures produce proverbs that devaluate, objectify, criminalise and demonise women. For identity is plastic and it is socially constructed in connection with cultural values, in patriarchal societies, those proverbs ensure that women are perceived as naturally degraded or villains. By teaching how to see women, they help to construct woman-identity as such. As a result, they play a historical role in the persecution of the women existence through witch-hunts, hysterectomies, insane asylums, child marriages, infanticides and so on.

Socially constructed woman-identity is pushed down upon people through generations as natural, and eventually, forget about men even women end up self-dictating these values and internalising them. When Simon de Beauvoir said “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”, she revealed the socio-cultural mechanisms that shape the woman-identity and the woman-being accordingly. When Judith Butler later conceptualised gender as performative, she, too, reminded that woman-being was not a biological phenomenon as taught to be so, but socially produced and reproduced constantly. Moreover, Butler questioned the role of language in what made bodily act performative.“It is not an accident that God is generally credited with the first performative” that made the light come into being. God supposedly created light and everything else that exists by simply speaking them into existence. Thus spoke Butler: “The point is not only the language acts, but that it acts powerfully”. The utterance has the power to bring things into being or make things happen. As do the proverbs. They convince people from one generation to another to perceive certain things in a certain way by presenting their perceived truth as the truth.

With the ideas circulating the world freely thanks to digitalisation, we see that such truths are relative to cultures. The end of the grand narratives brought the idea of universal truth, too, to an end. It is just as well that the collapse of the absolute truth opened a liberating space, especially for those exposed to systematic oppression in a culture, like women in patriarchal societies. This way, today, it is possible to deconstruct deeply rooted perceived truths of proverbs and the imposed values they convey about woman-being.

The art, old as humanity, has been changing faces from cave paintings to Digital Arts of the contemporary world. Digital Art has unprecedentedly increased the power of visual communication with visual stories travelling around the world in seconds and joining the collective memory of humankind. Digital Arts have brought in the democratisation of artistic expression and let women who were once left out of art practice raise their voice and make themselves heard as they would like to be heard all around the world.

To change how women-beings are treated, we need to change the way we think of women. Since language is performative and shapes our thinking, to change the way we think, we need to change the language. In her work, Irem deconstructs the cultural expressions long used to depict women. The Digital Art exhibition Women in Proverbs, which consists of ten digital illustrations and one video work, visualises the way proverbs of different cultures depicts woman-identity. 

For this series, Irem found inspiration in Mineke Schipper’s book Never Marry a Woman with Big Feet: Women in Proverbs from All Around the World which shows how common it is to devaluate women in manifold ways worldwide. Initially created for the Turkish audience, Irem’s illustrations incorporate the Turkish translation of the proverb she handles. Looking from beyond cultures in the digitalised globe, Irem humorously visualises each proverb as it is told without any interpretation. This way, she shows how nonsensical and ridiculously funny these expressions are in the absence of the meanings that culture assigns to them. In the Turkish language, the proverbs mean the word of (male) ancestors. Starting from her native language, Irem invites us to have fun with the way (male) ancestors saw women and with the outdated ideas of patriarchy.   

In this exhibition, her work is presented together with the proverbs in their original language, their English translation and cultural interpretation. This multi-cultural and multi-linguistic project is rooted in the communicative potential of both visual language and Digital Art that connect people worldwide beyond cultures and offer new languages for new thoughts. While inviting us to a vivid visual journey through colourful illustrations full of cultural references, Irem let the perceived truth of these proverbs that construct a disparaged or villain woman-identity get lost not in translation but the infinite information bits of the digital age and all-inclusive colourful pixel oceans of the Digital Arts.

Agora Talk

women in digital art: Irem Coban - Agora Digital Art

in English: Agora Talk 30 : Saturday October 2021 at 12:30 BST

in Turkish: October 2021 at 19:00 Istanbul time

Location: Hubs Mozilla

VR Exhibition in Hubs Mozilla

Artist Resident: Irem Çoban

Digital Curator: Isil Çelik

  • Digital Artist: Irem Çoban presents "Women in Proverbs" curated by Isil Celik for Agora Digital Art - Residencies
Visit Women in Proverbs

To enjoy the exhibition inside Hubs Mozilla, please make sure to have:

  • desktop experience only
  • a stable connection
  • Firefox or Google Chrome
  • size at 50% for best resolution or it pixellates
  • your earphones

How to navigate inside Hubs Mozilla (laptops or headsets)

  • a mouse to rotate: Q and E or left mouse button * to teleport: Right mouse button
  • a keyboard to move: Arrow or W, A, S, D keys * to fly: G or type /fly in chat * to move faster: press the SHIFT key + arrow

Create your avatar: step-by-step via Metaxu.Studio

Artist’s Portfolio

Irem Çoban, Chasing the hidden Sedition Collection (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.
Irem Çoban, Women in Proverbs series: When woman reigns, the devil rules. (2021) English proverb © Courtesy of the artist.

About the artist

Women in Digital Art: Irem Coban Turkish artist for Agora Digital Art
Sedition Website

Irem Çoban (b. 1986) opted to take her Bachelor’s Degree at 1st rank and completed a Master’s Degree in Cinema at Galatasaray University at İstanbul, Turkey. She worked as a designer at Galatasaray University Design Workshop Unit and designed a lot of posters, magazines, and books. She has participated in group exhibitions, festivals, and workshops in various countries such as the USA, Japan, UK, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Bulgaria, Germany, and Turkey. In the Art Woman 2020 Geo-Graphies exhibition organized by Primo Piano LivingGallery in Lecce, Italy, she was awarded the best technical practice award and the Silver Certificate for her video “Tell me my future”. Her short film “Hear”, which experimentally handles the story of a child bride, has been selected for the official screening selections of various international film and art festivals. She completed her doctoral thesis at Maltepe University Fine Arts Department, Proficiency in Art. Her thesis was awarded the Doctorate Thesis Research About Gender Scholarship Award in March 2020 at the festival organized by Festiva Istanbul Culture and Art Association. She lives in Istanbul where she works as Assistant Professor in Digital Game Design Department at Doğuş University.

Artist’s statement

The artist has always found the clamped lives and crises that individuals go through in today’s ready lives interesting. In a society ruled by the patriarchal social order, social screams of the suppressed, namely women and different gender identities, are fought to be brought out the bad as it is a means of purification as well as an expression of their inner world. As long as the reality is concerned, it is always important to make the known but ignored visible to everyone. In this axis, she tries to embody the feelings that are internalized in the daily life practices, which also reflects the general views about life. Having used an interdisciplinary approach by using a combination of digital drawing, video, photography and motion graphics and generative art, she aims to convey the multidimensional character of the human that is inherent and to mirror all the dirty clothes stored in the most hidden attics of mind. She thinks that it is important to visualize and materialize internal energies with abstract forms. In her works focusing on gender and identity issues, she explores the representation phenomenon of feminist art. In this context, the problems developing in the axis of the climate crisis, on the other hand, the fact that violence against women has increased significantly in our social lives that are in quarantine due to the pandemic affect her works. As David Lynch has stated, there is a wonderful ocean of happiness and consciousness that the individual can reach by diving into himself. This ocean is the most important element to purify us.


2021 | Creative Code Festival, Lightbox, New York

2021 | VENICE ART FAIR, THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space ve Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello, Venice, Italy.

2021 | Worldview: Anthropology of eco-vision, Palmieri’s Foundation, Lecce, Italy

2021 | THE BODY LANGUAGE 2021, THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space ve Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello, Venice, Italy.

2021 | #GENUARY2021, Symbiocene Gallery, Online

2021 | ENGAGE 2021, RE-ND-ER-ED, online

2021 | Sauna, McArt.İst, Uniq Expo, Istanbul.

2020 | 30secondsmuseum. Shibuya, Tokyo

2020 | Art Woman 2020 Geo-Graphies, Primo Piano LivingGalllery, Lecce, Italy.

2020 | Echo, Online Hubdesign

2020 | Hands Free Vol 1, Sanat365 Online

Discover more digital artists and exclusive interviews. We won’t spam you ;o)


Thanks to your generous support, Agora builds your permanent virtual exhibition.