Cemile Sahin wins Circa Prize 2023, exploring hope through Kurdish-inspired storytelling

The Circa Prize 2023, with an Ai Weiwei-designed trophy, goes to German artist Cemile Sahin for her work exploring lives affected by a dam project in Kurdish regions of Turkey

The Circa Prize 2023
(Image credit: Ayushi Channawar)

Cemile Sahin has been announced as the winner of the Circa Prize 2023 during a ceremony at London's Piccadilly Circus.

Sahin touched on personal family records when exploring the theme of hope for this year's Circa Prize. The German artist explored a variety of mediums, from film and literature to sculpture and photography, to create a fictional story, Four Ballads for my Father – Spring. Says the artist: ‘[It is] the story of a Kurdish family split between Paris and Istanbul: how their life was affected by the Southeastern Anatolia Project, a dam construction that ruptured communities in the Kurdish regions of Turkey.’

The layering of real-world sources, sewn into Sahin’s artistic vision, is what impressed the Circa Prize 2023 jury.

The Circa Prize 2023 winning film, Four Ballads for my Father – Spring by Cemile Sahin

Four Ballads for my Father – Spring by Cemile Sahin

(Image credit: Courtesy of Circa )

The Circa Prize 2023 winning film Four Ballads for my Father – Spring by Cemile Sahin

Four Ballads for my Father – Spring by Cemile Sahin

(Image credit: Courtesy of Circa)

Artist Ai Weiwei designed the award out of Lego (a go-to medium for the artist as seen in his largest Lego artwork for the London Design Museum) especially for this year's winner. The award was presented to Sahin during the live 20-minute ceremony at Broadwick Soho, by Shirin Neshat and Michèle Lamy.

The Circa Prize 2023 trophy

The Circa Prize 2023 trophy designed by Ai Weiwei

(Image credit: Courtesy of Circa )

The winning 2.5 minute film was submitted alongside 1,000 other entries from artists worldwide, all presenting their own take on hope. Recent graduates from the Royal College of Art,  JJ Agcaoili & Xin Wen, received the most public votes for their film EMERGE:NCY, which involved 3D imagery and remapping, shown across the Piccadilly Lights screen.

The Circa Prize 2023 entry, JJ Agcaoili & Xin Wen, EMERGE:NCY

JJ Agcaoili & Xin Wen, EMERGE:NCY

(Image credit: Rosie Feather)

‘Making a film means hope,' says Sahin. 'Making a contribution to this precarious cinema means hope. Above all, it is “hope” that tells the stories in a language that belongs to 40 million people, although the Kurdish language was forbidden in Turkey. Speaking comes with hope and becomes cinema: that this can be narrated in a film and thus be preserved. Everything that finds its way into a film is something which cannot be banned and therefore cannot be lost anymore. And this is for the future yet to come: that keeps growing and developing – with images that cannot be destroyed anymore. It is simple: this is the opposite of war and that is the greatest hope of all.’


Tianna Williams is the Editorial Executive at Wallpaper*. Before joining the team in 2023, Williams taught scuba diving for three years before heading into journalism. Previously she has been involved covering social media and editorial for BBC Wales, Ford UK, SurfGirl Magazine, and Parisian Vibe, while also completing an MA in Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Her work covers writing across varying content pillars for Wallpaper*.