Artist Spotlight with Mustafa Boğa Portrait of the artist in front of Mother and Child 1. Phot credit: Nils-Thomas Økland


Artist Spotlight with Mustafa Boğa

Posted: Aug 21, 2023

ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Mustafa Boğa as part of our Artist Spotlight series.

Extending his artistic practice across Adana and London, Mustafa Boğa first graduated from Harran University’s Radio-TV Broadcasting department in 2000. In 2009, he graduated from Istanbul University’s Department of Journalism and completed his first Master’s Degree in Cinematography and Post-Production at Greenwich University, London. After working for 5 years in various film production companies, he pursued his passion for the arts, culminating in his second Master’s Degree, in Fine Arts at Central Saint Martins in 2016.

Mustafa has won several awards including The Red Mansion Art Prize in 2016. He has worked with international artists Otobong Nkanga and Irena Haiduk, and has performed in Documenta14 in Kassel, Germany. In 2018, he was awarded with the ‘Highly Commended Artist’ at the Ashurt Emerging Artist Prize and got a fellowship at RAW Material Company in Dakar, Senegal. In 2019, he took part in ThirdBase residency in Lisbon where he created a series of textile works. In 2021, he was awarded Bilsart’s video art competition in Turkey along with a solo exhibition. His artworks became part of several collections such as the OMM Modern Museum in Eskişehir. Since, he has had solo exhibitions in Istanbul and London, as well as several group exhibitions overseas.

ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?

Mustafa Boğa: In my works I frequently delve into the themes and rituals of my upbringing. I incorporate manipulated videos and photographs of family members, ornate wreaths typically encountered at weddings and funerals, and quilts embroidered with subversive motifs. These images, often brought to life through freehand machine embroidery, serve as reflections of my childhood memories in the southern region of Turkey.

Narrating my subjects with a blend of emotional and cultural significance, I explore the influential power of the systems that govern our lives. My art reflects how these systems can propel us from one place to another, defining our journeys and experiences. Through my compositions, I weave a narrative that connects the audience to the complex heritage of my homeland, evoking feelings of nostalgia and contemplation. 

AE: You studied film and media transitioning to fine art. In what ways has your background in film informed your visual arts practice?

MB: Yes, my background in journalism and film has brought these skills into play in my fine art practice. Studying journalism has helped me ask questions before taking initial steps. I am interested in real life stories, mainly informed by events that unfold around me. That’s why my work examines the differences between art and documentary as well as how contemporary multi-media practices can manipulate our understanding of current affairs. I am interested in the boundaries that separate the viewing of events as a witness and my desire to tell stories. Recently, I realized that composition is a very important part of my work, whether moving or still. I use images, sometimes directly from family archives, sometimes found images which relate to the current political climate, and I assemble them into new compositions to curate particular narratives. What I have realized is that many images can look cinematic, and can play a role in storytelling when juxtaposed with other subject matter. 

AE: Tell us about your video installation Because Ours Could be the Beginning of a Beautiful Fairy Tale Dreamed of for Years (2021). What was the process of making this work and collecting these archival videos? What are you able to convey with this medium and these materials?

MB: The video work consists of wedding records that took place in a period between 1986 and 2018, in a region centered around Adana – my hometown and also that of my extended family. The 15-screen installation in the exhibition consisted of sequences selected and curated as part of an artistic intervention. I personally attended these weddings as a family member. 

While transforming my family’s 30-year-old wedding video archive into an artwork, I was struck by the difference between my memories of the events and the video evidence. I examined the unchanging choreography of the wedding dances and reduced each ceremonial element to the most performative moments by turning them into isolated sections, and spreading these concentrated moments over 15 separate screens. I also took sections shaped around the main characters, including myself, and others who have witnessed these intimate moments. Among them I am, perhaps, the easiest to recognize: I appear, even as a child, looking at the camera, and imagining myself on a screen. 

The installation proposes a witnessing experience, exploring the wedding as a performative social ritual. It asks the viewer to reflect on their own family memories, and the slippery nostalgia that is evoked. It is also a documentation of the technologies related to video recording that have changed over time. 

AE: Tell us about your style in the textile works you make. What processes, the various genres and approaches that you engage with?  What narratives come alive in your textiles, and what about this medium allows you to share these stories?

MB: During the lockdown, I started making freehand machine embroidery and tried to capture a vision for a post-pandemic future, along with a journey through my creative influences and history. When I started to make each work with this medium I initially made careful plans and laid out all the yarn in coordinated color sections, but in the end I was led more by improvisation. The randomness of choices makes sense when seen from a few feet away. The process becomes quite satisfying after adding hundreds of meters of thread and suddenly, an impression appears. 

The pieces are not merely portraits of people or autobiographical, but they tend to represent the realities of the world we live in. They are usually composed of many different people, ideas, images, happenings, thoughts, historical references and imagined moments. Again, I used my own photo archive as well as found images and assembled them to create new narratives. Sometimes the work directly explains concepts, but more often, it leaves interpretation to the viewer.  

During this time, I tried several different techniques from drawing and tracing on cloth or embroidering over images, to creating texture, using printed images and working over sections to evoke more detail. I used the machine as a drawing tool to cover the entire piece. This resulted in a thick surface akin to that of a tapestry and suggested a historical or religious association. This short video below shows how I initially made pieces.

AE: You’re participating in the first Turkish Textile Biennale in Izmir this September 2023. Tell us about the piece you’re showing. In what ways do you continue using methods that you developed in making textiles, and how does it depart from your previous work?

MB: Children in war zones endure unimaginable and long-lasting hardships that profoundly affect their well-being. Their emotional and physical immaturity makes it difficult for them to comprehend and cope with the horrors of war. This issue is particularly evident in countries like Turkey, where the relationship between the military and children seems to be an unending imposition. From a young age, boys are raised with the expectation of becoming soldiers when they reach 18 years old. This dynamic raises questions about the connection between man and child, soldier and citizen, as well as the nature of borders and ambition.

The soldiers depicted in this context remain faceless, either approaching or retreating from the child, their intentions unclear—perhaps protecting or threatening him. In contrast, the child appears calm and still, clutching oranges that symbolize the things we must relinquish in life, such as our values, health and possessions. This artwork can be interpreted in two distinct ways: firstly, the child’s serenity may instill hope, suggesting that he represents the future and remains untainted by the conflict. Secondly, the tension and motion of the soldiers can provoke anxiety, hinting at an uncertain future ahead.

By exploring these contrasting elements, the piece delves into the complexities of war’s impact on children, leaving us to reflect on the potential paths the future may take.

I think the techniques that I used in this work are still very similar to earlier pieces, but perhaps more refined as my understanding of how the sewing machine works and how the thread reacts has grown. I have also become more aware of how color can create both depth and mood in a landscape. 

AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?

MB: I love the work of Frida Kahlo. I have always been inspired by her strength and determination against the physical difficulties she had to endure, and her unflinching autobiographical approach. A few contemporary painters are also inspirational such as Salmon Toor, Michael Armitage, Lynette Yiadom Boakye and Faith Ringgold. They all offer something unique related to their backgrounds and describe ‘othered’ life experiences. They also explore the paradox of human experiences as both individual and social. For similar reasons I also love the video works by Isaac Julien and Charlotte Prodger, and installations by Laure Prouvost.

AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024? 

MB: Towards the end of September, I have a solo show in Adana titled Looking For the Warm Spot in a Swimming Pool. The exhibition will consist of the video work described above and some mixed images of new embroidery works.

I am also going to take part in an art residency in October at The Wirksworth Festival in Derby. The work I will make is going to be part of the next year’s festival in 2024. 

In November, I am also showing some portraits at the Paris Photo Art fair. The works are multi-layered and include photos, drawings, print and paintings.



Instagram: @bogamust