RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN SIBLINGS CAN BE COMPLICATED, BUT AS WE DISCOVER IN THE MARSHALL LIFE IN STEREO SERIES, THE CLOSE CONNECTION BETWEEN SISTERS ELIF AND NILÜFER YANYA HELPS THEM NAVIGATE THEIR INDIVIDUAL CREATIVE LIVES.
Rising star Nilüfer Yanya and her sister, visual artist and designer, Elif, grew up surrounded by creative energy. With artist parents, it was perhaps inevitable that they were going to follow the family footsteps - these endeavours began, according Elif, “probably drawing, scribbling on the floor somewhere”, while Nilüfer remembers starting to play music at the age of six and writing songs when she was 12.
The pair used to spend a lot of time singing together, drawing pictures around the kitchen table, or going out to paint landscapes of trees in the local park. Nilüfer says their parents encouraged these early experiments, which had a profound impact on her way of thinking about life and the world. “You learn to value things differently, all children are inherently creative, but I guess having artistic parents they really push that side of you,” she says. “I did sense my parents wanting me to take music and art more seriously. Like at one point in time I think they thought I wanted to do classical music, so they really pushed me towards that. But it never seemed like there was enough hours in the day to practice. It felt like I was constantly running out of time. Then when I started learning guitar it was a relief. Even at the beginning, when I could hardly play, I felt like I actually knew something and there wasn’t the pressure of practice and exams.”
She even thinks that their parents felt they were better off focusing on creativity rather than their academic studies: “they thought I was wasting my time when I could have been practicing piano. ”Elif remembers that she felt quite different from other kids when they were growing up. “Sometimes I felt a bit ‘other’, like I thought everyone did this kind of thing - always drawing things - but they don’t,” she recalls, “now I look back, I can see it’s not standard, always being at museums and being introduced to creative worlds.”
For her, there was never really any other option than to follow the creative path. “It was like - what else is there?” she says, “although sometimes, I did wonder, if I was to be more academic but I never really thought about taking things like maths or science seriously. I felt like I wasn’t good enough at those subjects or clever enough.”
Elif and Nilüfer grew up with mixed Irish, Bajan and Turkish heritage, which though it undoubtedly had an influence on what they do now, is something they’re still unpicking. “It’s just normal for us to be able to accept other cultures, especially when we were at school,” Elif says, “but it can also be confusing sometimes in terms of identity, because you don’t fit in with one type of background, but multiple. I don't think we can decipher how it has affected what we do, it just kind of is what we do. Part of what we are, which we love! It’s nice and precious.”
The sisters both agree that their shared love of creating just brings them closer together - Nilüfer says that this can even work on a practical level, as they boost one another to be more committed and productive. Elif thinks it goes deeper, as she explains, “It strengthens our bond, we just bounce off each other, grow with each other, learn from each other”.
WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE EACH OTHER, AND WHAT DID YOU DO?
Nilüfer: We did some vintage shopping and lunch, and then went boxing.
WHAT MUSIC AND ART DO YOU BOND OVER NOW?
Elif: Pretty much everything. We always show each other what we are listening to, and then there’s our own music, paintings and our family’s work…we have similar and also really different tastes!
HAVE YOU EVER CALLED EACH OTHER FOR ADVICE?
Nilüfer: Elif calls me when she's at work on her break.
Elif: Haha yeah, but we don’t really talk too much on the phone, it’s more when we see each other.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SHARED MEMORY?
Nilüfer and Elif: Being in Athens with Artists in Transit, where we work with refugee children creating art.
…AND HAVE YOU EVER HAD ANY DISAGREEMENTS?
Nilüfer: We argue quite a lot about stupid things like wearing each other’s clothes; I think we can annoy each other quite easily.
DO YOU EVER SWAP ART FORMS AND TRY YOUR HAND AT MUSIC/ART?
Nilüfer: Yeah, actually Elif was singing backing vocals for two nights at the Royal Albert Hall when we were supporting Interpol a couple of weeks ago. It was fun because Elif moved in with me that week for rehearsals, and it was her first time on stage so I felt very proud of her being able to do it.
Elif: I think we swap art forms all the time, because we both love music and art. Art is still part of what Nilüfer does and it’s the same as for me with music.
HAVE YOU EVER COLLABORATED AND IF NOT, WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT?
Nilüfer: Yeah, I think we will definitely collaborate more. I don’t see why not.
HOW DO SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS SURVIVE THE PRESSURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE?
Elif: Our relationship is very chilled; we don't really need to keep it up or anything. It can be sad when you miss each other or miss out on each other’s lives because you are busy doing your own thing but even that in itself is comforting because you know you are there for each other.
IF YOU’VE AN AFTERNOON SPARE AND MONEY IS NO OBJECT, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM SISTER DATE?
Nilüfer: Shopping, fancy dinner or lunch somewhere nice and maybe visit a show or see some music.
AUTHOR LUKE TURNER PHOTOGRAPHER WILL ROBSON-SCOTT