Art in Corona Lockdown - Interview with Ferhat Özgür, Zagreb

By Etienne Verbist - Monday, June 22, 2020
Art in Corona Lockdown - Interview with Ferhat Özgür, Zagreb

"During the period of the lockdown I was unable to work in my workshop on a daily basis, like I used to, even though it is only a fifteen-minute walk away from home. Yet this did not prove to be an obstacle for me to continue working on various ideas. Preserving my belief that the virus cannot be superior to creativity, I tried to enrich the freedom of loneliness by staging a ‘one-man performance’ at home in order to negotiate the absurdness and surreal contingencies of photography".

Image: Ferhat Özgür, “Lockdown Diary”, 2020, photograph


ArtDependence (AD):  Could you tell about yourself a bit, your educational background and current profession?

Ferhat Özgür (FÖ): I am an artist and academic living and working in Istanbul. I was born in Ankara and grew up there. Having graduated from painting department from Gazi University in Ankara (1989) I obtained my Master and PhD in Art in Hacettepe University, Fine Arts Faculty, Department of Painting (Ankara) where I served for seventeen years until I moved to Istanbul in 2010. Although I studied painting, over time I have been involved in video, photograph, installation and performance. I am extensively working on video and photography yet I have never given up painting, drawing and watercolor. I am still teaching in Düzce University, Painting Department, a city three hours away from Istanbul, so I travel back and forth between two cities.


  Ferhat Özgür, courtesy to the artist


AD: What is the project entitled “Artist Respond “ which you took part in the Museum of Avant-Garde, Zagreb about ?

FÖ: Artists Respond project was started by the Institute for the Research of the Avant-Garde and the Marinko Sudac Collection, curated by Dorotea Fotivec. Addressing the current global pandemic, the project aims to virtually present the thoughts and attitudes of neo-avant-garde artists, their energy and the message they have for the present moment.This is the moment in which the world as we know it is on hold and the moment in which we need optimism and solidarity more than ever. We wish for the public to welcome the creative energy of these artists - artists who are ready to point out the state of things, to respond with art and creativity, as they have done in all difficult times in the past.


Ferhat Özgür, “Lockdown Diary”, 2020, photograph


AD: How did you react to this invitation and what sort of contribution you made for that?

FÖ: During the period of the lockdown I was unable to work in my workshop on a daily basis, like I used to, even though it is only a fifteen-minute walk away from home. Yet this did not prove to be an obstacle for me to continue working on various ideas. Preserving my belief that the virus cannot be superior to creativity, I tried to enrich the freedom of loneliness by staging a ‘one-man performance’ at home in order to negotiate the absurdness and surreal contingencies of photography. I also reorganised ordinary objects available in the home to reflect their picturesque impact on my mood of isolation. I was investigating the interaction between the photographer (as myself) and the space (my own secured territory) which always resembles the act of scratching on a solid surface.

AD: What’s your goal in your artistic practice in general?

FÖ: In fact I try to reflect what I observe within life, which is to say nothing emerges from a void but from the realities surrounding us. This diversity reflects thevitality for experiment in different materials and media, mysearch for new approaches to tell new stories, to find the best possible means to bring out the ‘human element’ from within an intellectual sphere that touches on issues of cultural identity, gender, class, modernity, postmodernity and globalization, especially in relation to Turkey, Turkish culture and non-Western modernization models in particular.


Ferhat Özgür, “Lockdown Diary-2”, 2020, photograph


AD: You are also involved in installation as a medium. I found two of your site-specific installations were very much related with Turkey’s current political and cultural situation. The first one was “Animal Farm” (2017) at the Gallery The Pill and the second one was “Remains of Yesterday” shown in a group show entitled “Winter Is Coming” (2019) in Istanbul. In both installations what were your main concern? They underline some politcal facts we are all going through recently?

FÖ: “Animal Farm” was designed as a spatial fiction, consisting dominantly of decommissioned ballot boxes used in the elections. They are a kind of socio-political deconstructive challenge. Dismantled and subsequently reassembled, the ballot boxes besieged the entire gallery space with a large-scale wolf sculpture alongside a group of somewhat beleaguered and indecisive sheep. Deriving from the folk tales of "wolf and sheep" which feature in almost every cultural tradition, I tried tore-evaluate this structure as a sign of individual and social paradigms, including myown personal messages and advice.


Ferhat Özgür, “Animal Farm”, installation view from The Pill, Istanbul, 2017


In “Remains of Yesterday” I manipulated again decommissioned old wooden ballot boxes in order to bring the election and democracy phenomena, which we discussed extensively in 2019 in Turkey, to the fore in a different way by deconstructing them in the space-specific installation. Low-volt bulbs hanging from the ceiling whose cover panel removed, try to illuminate the wooden ballot boxes, some standing alone, some stacked on top of each other, from partial areas. The boxes symbolized our urgent need, as well as the reliability and uncertainty paradigms of the election which Turkey has experienced in the near past. On the whole, the installation sought to describe democracy in a mystical atmosphere where light and darkness are overlapped together.

AD: Why do you do what you do?

FÖ: There are several reasons. First, I have nothing I can get satisfied with, that is art. Secondly, as you put it right in some of your conversations I still believe in the power of art which can change the world, if not change, it can re-shape our minds and save our spirit from evil. We need arts as our canotus, which refers to the instinctive "will to live" of living organisms or the power of togetherness we all need in order not to cope with outer danger and obstacles but to survive individually. As Spinoza emphasized "each thing, as far as it lies in itself, strives to persevere in its being", thus conatusis the main source of all resistance systems. So I adopt all arts as our common conatus.


Ferhat Özgür, “Remains of Yesterday”, installation view from Mebusan 25, Istanbul, 2019


AD: What role does the artist have in society?

FÖ: The significance and necessity of artists nowadays have become more crucial than ever. In the past artist did not have to deal with matters such as climate crisis, global warming, social inequality, discrimination, migration, technological alienation, human rights and environmental disaster as much as they do now. Under the current circumstance’s artist are supposed to be a sort of pioneers, leaders or mentors as a solution maker. In this sense the art of participation is of great importance in terms of coherence togetherness, solidarity and mutual tolerance and understanding between communities, which is the only remedy against our common troubles above-mentioned. So, I always see artist as our social guide who think of forms and acts based on humanitarian facts.

AD: What themes do you pursue?

FÖ: My themes vary according to the given conditions, ranging from political turmoil, economical crises, identity, domestic violence, women rights to dilemma between modernity and westernization.


Ferhat Özgür, “Burden”, pencil, colored pencil and ink on paper
50 x 70 cm


AD: What do you dislike about the art world?

FÖ: All sort of values which are based on money and commodity. I hate manipulative art market and those who devoted themselves to only concrete outputs. Egoism, insolence, addiction of visibility, exhibition inflation, ignorance and of course closed-circuit relationships or exclusion are the most detestable things I try to keep away from the art world as much as I could.


Ferhat Özgür had solo shows in MoMA PS1, Marabouparken Sweeden, Michigan University Museum of Art. He took part in 10thIstanbul Biennale, 6thBerlin Biennale and Busan Biennale (2018). His work has been included in institutional collections, including, Zabludowicz Foundation-London, FRAC-Bordeaux, Centre George Pompidou-Paris, Salzburg Museum, Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Turin, Istanbul Modern etc.



Etienne Verbist is an authority in the field of crowd sourcing, disruptive business modelling and disruptive art. After a well filled career with companies such as GE, Etienne was an early adopter of crowd sourcing. Etienne is manager Europe and Africa for Crowd Sourcing Week, a board advisor to a broad range of companies on innovation and new technology, curator of the Disruptive Art Museum – the smallest museum in the world – and columnist for ArtDependence Magazine.

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