17 March 2015

INTERVIEW: NAZ CUGUOĞLU

Naz Cuguoğlu
portrait of Naz Cuguoğlu; photo credit by by Zeynep Bolat

Residencies are a growing trend for artists and curators to establish an international network. But who are the organisers of these short-term projects? In Istanbul, one of the great networkers is Naz Cuguoğlu – coordinator of the maumau residency program in the district Çukurcuma. Having previously studied psychology and recently graduated in social psychology, Naz specialised in cultural psychology and volunteered in culture labs in Turkey, Nicaraguara and the US. She worked in an Istanbul-based gallery and frequently contributes reviews and interviews to publications like Istanbul art news, Artful Living, Trendsetter or KLOK. For her current project, the maumau residency, Naz organises the artists’ stay and co-curates exhibitions together with her collaborateur and maumau-founder Sine Ergün.


Mine Kaplangı: Naz, you are co-directing the maumau residency in Istanbul, which was founded three years ago. What kind of programs does it offer?
Naz Cuguoğlu: We have three programs: The first – the artist-in-residence program – is for artists, who are interested in staying for 6 weeks, working in a shared studio, networking with the local art community and having a final show at the end. The second is a writer-in-residence program, which is for writers, who also want to stay for 6 weeks and work on their projects. The third is a self-directed-residence program for those who would like to choose the length of their stay and to work on their own project. We also try to take advantage from the residency’s central location by organizing artist talks, readings by writers and some exhibitions by artists from Turkey to support them. And at the same time, we do our best to stay familiar, real and even naïve, resisting the difficult atmosphere of Istanbul’s art market. We do our best to collaborate as much as possible. Our doors are open to everyone.

Mine: How do you finance maumau?
Naz: It is very hard to get funds for arts and culture in turkey, so we finance the residency program through payments from the artists. However, we send them an invitation letter and luckily 80% receive funding from their own government.

Mine: You write for many different magazines and art blogs – what do you write about? 
Naz: Each of them has a different significance for me with their varying topics. I have been interested in writing all my life. I keep on writing short stories and poems for myself.

Mine: How would you evaluate the status of art criticism in Turkey?
Naz: I believe that there is a problem about our way of criticism. Partly, this is about our culture, since we tend to perceive criticism as a mark of someone’s negative attitudes and feelings towards us. Therefore, when you read an article, it is all about praises and affirmative comments. On the other hand, critics are afraid of making enemies and of being left all alone. I think we need to break this rule somehow. We need structured criticism to progress and develop. 

Mine: Could you tell me a bit about your ongoing interview series about initiatives, that is, project spaces in Turkey?
Naz: Yes, for Artful Living, I am working on a conversation series with different initiatives in Turkey. I wanted to create sort of an archive for current project spaces. Most of them are getting closed from day to day. I wanted to know what was going on. Being part of the initiatives’ world through maumau, I am realising during the conversations that we share many common experiences from Istanbul’s art world: We all have a hard time to define the initiative, we all want to resist against art market, but at the same time we want to be visible so that we attend art fairs. Money is a common problem: Getting funds for cultural initiatives in Turkey is really difficult for all of us. 

Mine: Do you also interview artists and curators? 
Naz: For the magazine Trendsetter, I am mainly conducting interviews. My first one was with Özdemir Altan – I was really excited and my hands were shaking. I had prepared myself and tried to find questions that he never got asked. After the interview he told me that he was very impressed by my questions and he added that interviewers would mostly come to him without any questions on their minds. I was really surprised to hear that others do not even prepare questions. I believe that the key words for our generation are: Do not fake it, always ask, be real and be yourself. We need these. Time to be cool is over. Instead it is time to be honest and real and to collaborate! 

Mine: The maumau residency is located in the central district Çukurcuma. How does the art scene develop in this part of Istanbul?
Naz: Istanbul is going through a horrible gentrification. Çukurcuma is already gentrified and the process already moved to the districts of Karaköy and Kadıköy. Clearly, this creates problems for Çukurcuma and its art scene. Many galleries and artist studios left this neighborhood, moving to cheaper parts. The quick transformation and the consumption really scare me. However, there are still great and new places in our district: I really support and admire the exhibitions by Blok Art Space and by PRIZMA, who mostly aim to support young artists and creative artworks. 

Mine: Where, do you think, is Istanbul’s art scene generally heading?
Naz: I find the art scene in Istanbul a bit repetitive. Although there is space for creativity and progress, we do not take most advantage out of it. This is partly because of daily problems, such as depressive news, killings or transportation problems. However, we have to find ways to fight back these problems, and get our hands dirty by experimenting more and taking more risks. 
Also, it is interesting to see how small the art community in Istanbul is. We have to find a way to enlarge our community and including a wider audience so that we can talk about different perspectives and progress as the whole art community.

Mine: You are already actively increasing the size of the art community with your residency program and the exhibitions at the space. What will be the exhibition project?
Naz: I will curate an exhibition with the curator and writer Mehmet Kahraman titled ‘Active Forgetting’ from April 17th to May 16th at maumau. It will be about the memory of the city and the difficulties we face to get over harsh memories, directly related to Nietzsche’s concept of ‘active forgetting’. We are aiming to make the audience think about what the mind updates while forgetting. 

Mine: Like you, many new key figures in İstanbul’s art scene belong to a young and strong generation. Do you think that this shift could cause a major change for Istanbul? 
Naz: I do believe that our generation will take the power in their hands very soon. There is a great atmosphere of creativity and excitement in the air. The only thing is that we should not forget the power of collaboration. I believe that the ones who will prefer to stay selfish and keep their knowledge to themselves will not progress. We have to meet more, talk more and create more! It is all in the air…


 maumau residency

creative çukurcuma 
(a networking project that is about to be launched)
► facebook.com/creativecukurcuma 


maumau residency Istanbul Çukurcuma maumau residency Istanbul Çukurcuma maumau residency Istanbul Çukurcuma Naz Cuguoğlu images: maumau-residency in Istanbul / portrait of Naz Cuguoğlu by by © Zeynep Bolat
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