Roni Reha – Zurich
Living in exile in Switzerland, Kurdish artist Serdar Mutlu is trying to document real human stories while creating a “collective memory” through his artwork.
Mutlu studied fine arts in Istanbul. Due to the political situation, he emigrated to Switzerland in 2017. He documented the stories of refugees in camps in Greece and Switzerland as records of social memories.
The artist conceives of the human body as a storehouse and archive that makes this material accessible through communication and preservation in memory. Serdar Mutlu is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Curatorial Studies at the Zurich University of the Arts. He is a founding member of the art centre “Ji Sanat” in Istanbul and currently lives in Bern.
The recent exhibition “∞ Evolution” focuses on the social memory of Kurdish culture and discusses forms of conflict resolution and peacemaking.
Serdar Mutlu talked to Medya News regarding his artwork and his recent exhibition, which focuses on the besieged town of Afrin (Efrin).
Thank you very much for your time and the opportunity for an interview. Can you introduce yourself to us, briefly?
First of all thank you very much for inviting me.
I was born in Nusaybin (Nisebin) in Mardin (Mêrdin), a multicultural city; different beliefs, cultures and languages all together have co-existed in my homeland. I was born in a place close to Qamishlo (Qamishli) and the Nusaybin border, which was another inspiration for my art actually. You know when the nation-states emerged, they tried to make Kurdistan fall apart and this was a burning issue, and I was at the centre of this issue, seeing the people from Qamishlo, my cousins, my friends. We knew them but there was a border. We had to pay to visit the other side. Amazing cultural paradise I can say.
As a Kurdish artist, do you want to say something about the relationship between art and resistance?
Yes, Kurdish art, or when you are doing any kind of art actually, when it comes to production, management, critics, writing about art, you need inspiration and you need to have materials from the roots. What lies in your roots? What can you bring from your roots? Of course, pain and resistance go back thousands of years. As an artist in Europe, if I want to use some concepts from my roots, it will, of course, tell the story of resistance.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to Switzerland, why did you leave from Turkey?
It was, you know, political problems. I was studying Fine Arts at Marmara University. We did demonstrations like everybody, normal political students: no fighting, no war, no bombing in Kurdistan… and let’s keep children free, don’t kill children. As a Kurd, I wanted to have an education with my mother-tongue. This is a basic demand. Why can’t I get education or educate my child with my mother-tongue? They hate the idea of Kurdish people being educated in their own language. That’s why there are problems, and prison sentences. They wanted to send me and my friends to prison. I was in Istanbul and we have a collective art centre, but I had to leave and close the art centre. That is the short story of my life, as a normal refugee who crossed the border between Greece and Turkey. Now I am here.
What are you doing here in Switzerland, what are you busy with?
I am studying Curatorial Studies at the Zurich University of Art. Except for my work at the school, I am working for my sole exhibition and I am part of the National Swiss Exhibitions. Mostly I research Kurdish people in the Kurdish diaspora and how we can explain their stories in art.
How did your relationship with art begin and what is the importance of art for you?
Actually, as I said before, Mardin, the city where I grew up, inspired me. The buildings and the diverse population inspired me. Then I used these stories to produce my art.
I am studying Curatorial Studies. In German it means “fermittlung” – mediation. How can you connect the production of art with people? That is important, of course. Art is a kind of “soul”, a universal spirit. Art is not about an object, a stone or paint or film. It is not about that. There is a soul, the spirit of the universe and how you can keep the question simple and how you can do in a smart way, simply bring art or an artist to connect with society. It should be a social science background, inspired from history or cultural history. Keep important parts of culture or the historical situation, bring it all together and present it to society. For me, there are a few important questions. The first one is mediation, when you prepare an exhibition. Secondly, senography: how you show materials in an art room for the exhibition. The third is concepts from philosophy of art, history of art or the analysis of art. This third part is so important. Mediation, senography and concepts.
You have an exhibition related to Afrin. What are you saying with this exhibition?
That was a kind of storytelling. I mean there are exhibitions which show the city occupied by the Turkish army and their gangs. I did not just want to hang on the wall photographs from Afrin, with people crying, deaths of children… This is a kind of reality, the first kind of reality is these images and graphics. There are good artists who exhibit photographs, films and documentaries from Afrin. They are amazing Kurdish artists. But I want to use symbols, and exhibit a video installation by using symbolism. For example, I used the colour of Afrin and colour of Kurdish people: yellow. There was a video installation with three parts: sound, image, and subtitle. Subtitle and video in different parts. I wanted to send a message that whether you’re European or Kurdish, any person from any culture or any nation may not want to see the reality sometimes.
Why did you chose olive oil in the exhibition?
Olive oil is one of the symbols of Afrin. Everybody knows olive oil is very important for Afrin. The olive oil produced from the olive trees in Afrin was stolen and sold to Europe. This is really a shame, it is a deep pain for a person, for a mother in Afrin. For example, this became a symbol when I interviewed a mother from Afrin who said, “I was reading news from Afrin, it was about our olives, the Turkish army and paramilitary powers in Afrin now steal and sell them to Europe without asking us. The sell them as Spanish olives”. How do you feel eating olives at breakfast? Would the olives not taste of blood? That’s why it became the main symbol in the exhibition.
Serdar Mutlu’s personal website can be reached via this link.