OMM Studio I: In Conversation with Mustafa Boğa

London-based artist Mustafa Boğa hosts us in his studio.

Artist Mustafa Boğa works across mediums with enviable ease: Photography, video, performance and installation are all a part of his practice. Boğa often revisits themes and rituals from his ancestral home in his works - manipulated images of his family members, ceremonial flower arrangements and radically embroidered quilts offer hints into the artist’s upbringing in Turkey’s south. Here, he shares his lockdown experiences and vision for a post-pandemic future with OMM, along with a journey through his creative influences and history.

As part of our new content surrounding the pandemic, we pay a weekly, digital studio visit to artists. This new video/Q&A series will be published on Journal and @ommxart every Monday.

Somehow we will heal; but I feel like this is dependent on all of our individual effort and achievements.

Can you tell us a bit about your practice? What were the biggest influences as you developed your style?

It all begins with the appearance of an impression or thought in my head. I then start to analyze and investigate that idea, or dream, I try to understand it. So begins a journey to make the dream come true. I’m not attached to a particular technique in my works. Every project breeds its own practice and I find the process more exciting that way. I learn new methods with every project.

I’ve been intrigued by every form of art since my childhood. I always fed my studies in cinema and journalism through art. After I finished studying fine arts, my education culminated into a way of life. That’s pretty much how my practice developed.

Are there any recurring themes or motifs that you take inspiration from in your work?

I’m mainly interested in my family history and tend to focus on projects that combine contemporary art with a traditional perspective. Beyond that I examine culture, history, the political events we find ourselves in, my own search for identity and belonging. I usually take my personal experience as a starting point and try to obtain a wider perspective from there. In doing so I use video, photography, performance and installation techniques.

Did you have an upcoming exhibition or project that was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the subsequent global crisis? Will your works be shown in the near future?

Yes, in the wake of the pandemic, seven of my exhibits have been postponed to later dates. We are discussing the possibility of several of them taking place in September, but of course we can’t say anything for certain. There is a six-week long artists’ residency in Norway I was supposed to participate in in August that has yet to be canceled. I hope we’ll be able to travel again by then.

What do you foresee for the post-pandemic art world? How has this period affected your practice?

The pandemic has brought to the fore how easily years of specialization, the transferring of welfare state duties over to free market, and the politics of using natural resources to create comfort rather than national prosperity can evolve into social disasters. Our current situation is reminding us all of the importance of a strong social capital. Unfortunately our lives are bearing the heaviest burden created by these situations.

I think that the authorities will figure out new ways to benefit from the pandemic and subsequent chaos. People and organizations who view art as a financial instrument will also benefit from the economic downfall caused by the pandemic. As a result art, which is dependent on a functioning economy, will have to wait for the financial climate to heal. But personally I’m still hopeful. I believe that our collective efforts can yield good results in a short time. Life will go on, and we will all question the new normal we are about to enter into through the lens of our current struggles. Somehow we will heal; but I feel like this is dependent on all of our individual effort and achievements. This period has given us more than enough time to read, think, and create, and the possibility to get around to things we have been postponing, save travel. A lot of artists are making the most of this time to create brand new work, it’s exciting to see what they do.

What are you currently focusing on in your work?

Before we began to self-isolate, I was attempting to work with textile but couldn’t make a lot of time for it. In February I was preparing for a months-long hibernation with my sewing machine to focus on learning new techniques, and the pandemic came along. So my plans weren’t terribly affected. I had already made my preparations.

I had begun experimenting with mixed embroidery using a sewing machine, and I’ve been working on that. As for subject matter I was inspired by family portraits. The pandemic has been especially hard in terms of being separated from our families. Every memory appeared before us with its own narrative. I’m wondering how I can express those stories through embroidery, and I spend hours with my sewing machine while wondering. All of a sudden I find myself with a metres-long combination of threads and the process continues.

The pandemic has sent us all on a journey, and we don’t know when or how it will end. We now find ourselves united in the face of a totally different sort of chaos than climate change or financial crisis.

Have there been any artists or exhibits you’ve been especially moved by since the beginning of isolation?

I watched the documentary “Sky Ladder” by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang and was very impressed by his work. The effort Qiang put into creating a stairway that extends to the sky with fireworks, and overcoming every obstacle in his path, gave me hope for our current situation. The pandemic has sent us all on a journey, and we don’t know when or how it will end. We now find ourselves united in the face of a totally different sort of chaos than climate change or financial crisis. Let’s see what lessons humanity will learn from this, the new ways we will find to support each other. I hope our current difficulties engender positive changes.

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