“Are You Still Talking?”: Mustafa Boğa

Frequently dealing with cultural conflicts and potential areas of reconciliation in his practice, Mustafa Boğa tells about his changing self over the years and his works in the exhibition “Don’t Look Back Deep is the Past.”

Are You Still Talking Because I’m Done (2019) from the Adorned Dialogues series reinterprets traditional Turkish wreaths that are customarily sent to weddings and funerals. Staying true to the emotional nature of these themes and armed with sentiments like, “My language is insulting me: — Is that it?” and “Are you still talking? Because I am done,” Boğa’s tongue-in-cheek messages mourn a loss of linguistic, national, and religious identity and collectivity. The communal grief is accentuated through the desolate environments the arrangements are photographed in: abandoned farmlands and vacant ceremonies for no one.

You can listen to our conversation in Turkish with Mustafa Boğa about society and identity in the podcast series accompanying OMM’s “Don’t Look Back Deep is the Past'' exhibition.

Mustafa Boğa, Adorned Dialogues series, 2019, Are You Still Talking? Because I’m Done., Floral arrangement
Mustafa Boğa, Adorned Dialogues series, 2019, Are You Still Talking? Because I’m Done., Floral arrangement

OMM: Can you talk about the process behind your works Extraneous Objects (2017) and Kalashnikov (2019)?

Mustafa Boğa:
First of all, I would like to talk about how I work, as this has become increasingly important to my practice. Each work goes through a mental preparation stage that takes two to three years. When I first think of an idea, I usually take a note, and I will revisit that note time and again. Over time, I decide on the form the work will exist in. These two works percolated from this process I just described.

Extraneous Objects
is a work I created to overcome some of the differences and borders between my family and myself. It sounds too direct, too utopian if you will, but I really began working on it to start a new conversation. Every time I went back to Adana, my hometown, what I really did in London would be a subject of endless speculation. “Can you make enough money off of this work?”, “How much longer will this go for?”, “Will you ever move onto something else?” were among the questions that drove this conflict. Extraneous Objects came about as I looked for a way to show my family what I now did for a living. I chose certain objects from their daily lives and placed them on plinths, asked them to observe the objects, and photographed them in action. We arrived at a collaborative work. By utilizing the relation between man and object, sculpture and performance, we found a new way to connect. And I introduced myself to them as an artist for the very first time.

We can move on to Kalashnikov from here as it stems from the same idea of incorporating objects that my family is familiar with and improving our dialogue through that effort. This work has to do with me, my family, and the clashes I have with the culture I come from. Masculine objects like weapons, tanks and planes embroidered on fabric—a soft, feminine, and light material—represent the cost of the clashes between us. The hand-quilted duvet, a familiar object to me, became a metaphor for my homeland. As I so fervently tried to escape from this metaphor, my desire to be sheltered by it came to the surface. Thus, a connection was formed between paradoxes.

Your third work in the exhibition is from the series Adorned Dialogues and the visitors can see the wreath, as well as a photograph of it. In the photographs, we see the wreaths in desolate environments, merely adorned by a single sentiment. The wreath at OMM has “Are You Still Talking?” written on it, which sure feels like a statement, a sentence with an attitude.

Actually, this work also stems from my idea of selfhood and how I relate to my culture. As I question the concept of “homeland,” I am conversing with it—that is why the series is named “Adorned Dialogues.” The work defines itself by asking questions instead of casting a light on whatever experience we have. The series as a whole contains more questions than answers.

What is Adana or Turkey like in your memories? How does the sense of place shape your work as an artist?

I had a toughtime leaving Turkey. At the end of the day, I had to leave a place where I felt I belonged. Though I say “had to,” it was really the struggle of searching for a new meaning. I escaped, not knowing what I was looking for. First, I found myself in Istanbul, then in London. Once my artistic identity was in place, I started doing a better job at understanding and accepting myself, my family, and the culture I was raised in. Our rituals, belief systems, traditions, what we do as part of everyday life, and how we collect memories enthralled me. While rediscovering my standing in the context of these rituals, I started producing works each time I visited Adana. The material there, how the society functioned, and my memories had an immense effect on me; in turn, my artworks became about my home.

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