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Hilal Can Paints A Fresh Philosophy for Turkey

The multidisciplinary artist inspiring creative confidence within Istanbul

Hilal Can's paintings are an amalgamation of curious characters and surreal landscapes, brought to life through intricate brushwork and multilayered narratives. This dreamy, otherwordly approach to painting also appears in Hilal's other forms of creativity. From her tattoos to her installations, her music to her live performances, there is a consistent thread of morphing reality with surrealism.

Having connected with Hilal while visiting Istanbul, our Sassy founder Bethany Burgoyne was invited to her studio to learn more about Hilal's artistic path within Turkey and how her travels abroad have shaped the approach she takes today.

Tune in and get inspired by Hilal Can's motivations to create and how valuing her own art has led to greater success both in personal and professional ways. We hear music from Hilal's previous collaborative projects and get a taster of the poetic nature her sonic waves carry.


Hilal's journey to pursuing her career as an artist is one which took her down many paths, in many different locations. Hopping between painting, ceramics, and installations, Hilal continually finds ways to combine her passion for visual art with a joy for singing, creating music, and developing a name for herself as a tattooist.

She tells us how creativity has always helped her express herself, explaining how "my art practice has been a tool for me to reach my inner real emotions somehow. It was always like that since I was a child and then it turned to being a profession". However, being able to call herself an "artist" hasn't been easy, explaining how the word in Turkish has many negative connotations. She tells us how it was only when "traveling to other countries and telling people what I was doing that people were saying I was an artist. But it was always hard to say it in Turkish".

My art practice has been a tool for me to reach my inner real emotions somehow. It was always like that since I was a child and then it turned to being a profession

Having trained in drawing before taking a job at an institution teaching art, Hilal found herself pushing against the system that she had become part of. After six months of teaching, Hilal quit the job and moved to Denmark to work in a school for children with severe learning difficulties. "I lived there for two years which gave me time to think about what I was doing, where I was heading. They gave me a room in the school so I could paint but then I had to come back to Turkey because they changed the laws of immigration residencies." Returning to Istanbul, and renting a studio, she explains "this was when my struggle started... It was almost impossible 5 or 6 years ago for me to think, as a woman artist, that I would make my life from my paintings." Changing this mindset was something that took time and perseverance, leading Hilal to learn the importance of believing in herself so that she could start selling her own artwork and price her paintings for what they were worth.

If I stop believing in myself then no one will believe in it... I have to find the motivation inside of me

Having grown up in an Islamic household, Hilal tells us about spending her childhood going to Quaran courses and reading the Arabic text despite being able to understand the language. It was an insight into the religion that, for Hilal, became hypocritical and lacking in logic. "Religion brings a big huge block, it says 'this is what is given, don't think'. I don't think people are seeking for independent thought. Alongside feeling frustrated with the enforcement of religion, Hilal also began to see the disparities between how women and men were treated.

When talking about the laws in Turkey, she explains how "it is one of the countries in the world where there are a lot of fucked up issues - murders, rapes - and the laws are not protecting women's rights". This is apparent in the way the Turkish government struggled to accept the Istanbul agreement preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. "We should be further, there should be equality between humans... but instead we're still struggling". The fact that Hilal is defying many of the expectations placed on her within society is something that we see as hugely inspirational for fellow females within and around Turkey.

Being on stage gives me this feeling of being seen and it helped me, encouraged me actually

When asking Hilal what her Sassy side looks like, she tells us how being on stage and dressing up in costumes is a large part of her liberated self-expression. "It gives me this feeling of being seen and it helped me, encouraged me actually. Being seen for who you are and what you have". This leads us to discussing what Hilal is motivated to achieve. Recognising how many of her dreams have already come true, Hilal reflects on how "Im waiting, I keep trusting my instincts, watching my flow and holding onto my art". She tells us how there is a lack of an art scene in Turkey that gives space to people who are not doing art in an elite way. So, alongside developing her own practise, Hilal tells us how she hopes to encourage an underground art scene for people who have a need for expression. "It feels nice to encourage others... to not feel alone in what you are doing, to gather together and celebrate and make events." This hope sits alongside Hilal's hope that more artists from around the world will visit Turkey "Many artists here cannot go to other countries because of the visa issues so they can't challenge their own creative skills. But if people from other countries come here, it gives mind openings".

When reflecting on Hilal's career and the connections she's made across Turkey as well as parts f Europe, it is clear how her collaborative approach is something that has led her to expand her creative wings even further. From live art performances to creating huge murals through cities, Hilal's never-ending approach to making is something we see being a source of inspiration on a daily basis. As we watch Hilal work her way into another painting, it's with excitement that we look forward to seeing the development her life and art will take. Certain that the result will be full of cheeky, melancholic characters and craftsmanship.

Hilal's Quickfire

When do you feel most confident?

When I'm alone

What key experience has shaped you positively?

6 months ago I sold this painting that I thought nobody would be interested in. Economically it really made things faster for me, made me believe more.

One dream you wish to come true?

I just image a purple mountain - maybe having a life under the mountain somewhere

One law you want to change?

The Istanbul Agreement would be a big step - it would be a big deal that someone in the Turkish Republic doesn't support people who are raping other people, whatever their gender.

Best thing about being you?

My curly hair

Name you Sassy soundtrack

Aglamakla inlemekle - Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Barış Manço - Bir Bahar Akşamı

Fire Smoke - Kae Tempest

Vita Expandi - Hilal Can and Su

Kuneffe - Alexander Arpeggio, Nixxon, Hilal Can


Keep up to date with Hilal's art via her IG or tune into her work on YouTube here

Interview and write up by Bethany Burgoyne, on ig @bxsassy2

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