Naz Cuguoglu, writer and coordinator of maumau art residency in Istanbul, in conversation with Pau Cata. Cata has been working in the cultural field as a facilitator and curator for more than 10 years and, since 2012, together with the Egyptian organisation El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts, he has been developing The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map.
This interview appears in full in the ‘Painting’s Not Dead!’ Issue (13.4) of ARTsouthAFRICA – on shelves at a store near you! You will also be able to read this exclusive content in the July Digital Issue (FREE download here for Apple and here for Android).
Naz Cuguoglu:Since 2009, you have been the director of Centre for Research and Creativity Casamarles (CeRCCa) – an independent non-profit cultural association located in Catalonia. Can you tell us about your projects?
Pau Cata: CeRCCa develops its activities through a double strategy, its Artists-In-Residence (A.I.R) Program and the international Research and Curatorial Projects.
As an A.I.R Program, CeRCCa facilitates living and working space for artists, curators and cultural researchers interested in temporarily being part of the context of Llorenç del Penedès, developing projects in interaction with or inspired by its community. With this objective, CeRCCa supports research and creative practices that are interdisciplinary, collaborative and site specific. We propose a residency format where dialogue and interaction become essential. Since 2009, more than 80 artists from all around the world have participated to our program and we have organised more than 12 exhibitions.
As a Research and Curatorial Platform, CeRCCa engages in the current debates on the threads and the weaknesses of artistic mobility today. The aim of these projects is to reflect upon the functionality and challenges of A.I.Rs as a creative method that enforces meaningful interactions and exchanges through the art. Since 2009, CeRCCa, in collaboration with other organisations, has participated in several projects in Abkhazia, Armenia, Turkey, Serbia, Slovenia, Morocco and Egypt.
How is everything going? Any challenges?
Coordinating CeRCCa has been an exceptional experience as the project has created multiple interactions through creativity and research and has opened the doors to establish strong links both with the local community and international artists, curators and cultural organisations.
This process is not exempt of challenges though. These challenges are framed by the same essence of artistic mobility itself. How do we continue to create equal, strong, meaningful and sustainable collaborations? How do we enforce dialogue between discourses in and outside of creative practices? And how do hospitality and cultural exchange work when trying to bridge the gap between international artists and local communities? These are some of the questions that we keep asking ourselves.
Since 2012, together with the Egyptian organisation ‘El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts’ in Alexandria, you have been developing ‘The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map’ (NACMM), which is an initiative for artists and researchers working on projects in North Africa. What was the motivation behind this initiative?
In 2013 CeRCCa was selected for the Ana Lindh Foundation to be part of the Dawrak Exchange Grant. The project that CeRCCa and El Madina collaboratively developed is the NACMM (www.nacmm.info). NACMM’s motivation is to become an information platform for artists, writers and researchers from North Africa and abroad as well as a space to discuss the traditions, contradictions, interests and imbalances of cultural mobility in the region today.
And what does NACMM do?
The NACMM is a research project about mobility initiatives for artists, writers and researchers from all over the world interested in travelling and developing projects within North Africa. The aim of the NACMM is to promote a better understanding of the cultural, social and political contexts of the region, while at the same time strengthening cultural dialogue and collaboration between North African counties. In order to achieve these goals, the project will facilitate a national database of mobility programs operating in the region, video interviews with the coordinators of different initiatives and networking and funding opportunities. Furthermore the project includes a resources section with research tools and relevant on-line articles, bibliography and creative projects that reflect on the topic of cultural mobility in North Africa.
Do you feel like you have met your aims so far?
Yes, I think the project has achieved a lot already and is following a good direction. Although the project has not been publicly launched, the NACMM has already been part of different conferences and workshops in Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Spain and the U.S. Besides that, great efforts and much support will have to be secured in order to fully unfold the potentialities of the platform. These potentialities are not only focused on providing help for international artists and curators to develop cultural projects together with their counterparts in North Africa, but also to rethink contemporary art itself as a legitimate tool to enhance a better understanding of our world from a cross-cultural perspective.
What do you think about the North African art world and art scene? Is there anything exciting, interesting or noteworthy happening? Any examples?
To be honest, I don’t think that anything that can be understood as the ‘North African art world’ exists. In any case, we could talk about Maghreb and Mashrek but it would be really difficult to try to give an opinion of the so call ‘art world’ or ‘art scene’ in those contexts. Now more than ever, we cannot over simplify as the socio-political contexts of Morocco differ greatly from the ones in its neighbour Algeria, not to mention Tunisia, Libya or Egypt.
Going back to the question, of course there are plenty of exciting and interesting things happening in North Africa! ‘resistance(((s)))ound. resistance(((s)))ound’ is a project that tracks ephemeral acts of resistance through a collective research process that puts together different sound art initiatives in Casablanca, Alexandria, Dakar, Madrid and Brussels. ‘Embroiderers of Actuality’ is a project developed in Egypt and Morocco, a sensible provocation and a visual discussion about the position of Arab women in society. The project uses poetry and literature written by local women and employs embroidery as a form of folk craftsmanship that speaks to notions of belonging, tradition and participation.
DJART’14is a project developed by Trans-Cultural Dialogues in Algiers – being open to the public and combining art, architecture, research and history, the program included activities such as panel discussions, workshops, artists’ interventions, exhibitions, musical events, visual performances and street poetry, with a special attention paid to the use of public spaces.
I choose these specific projects to underline something that is happening in the Arab creative scene that I think is crucial and extremely exciting – the impulse to confront individualism through the development of creative practices that have, at their core, interdisciplinary collaboration and the demand for social justice in the framework of community empowerment.
You have also attended the maumau art residency in Istanbul. What do you think about the art scene in Istanbul? What is going on there?
My time as resident in maumau was one of the happiest and most productive in my life. maumau gave me the opportunity to be myself as an ‘artist-in-residence’ and so experience my job as coordinator of CeRCCa from a different perspective. Thanks to maumau’s network, I met a lot of other artists, curators and researchers and was introduced to the contemporary art scene in Istanbul. That was a fascinating trip and one that will mark my professional and personal development forever.
I believe that the contemporary art scene in Istanbul is surprisingly vibrant and continuously evolving. I was really surprised about the quality of infrastructures that support the debate about and exhibition of contemporary art in the city – SALT, Mixer and Depo being great examples of such a dynamic scene. Besides that, the situation is marked by a disjunction between the public and private support for the art sector. Most importantly from my perspective, artistic production has become bipolar, in-between the subjugation to the art market and interdisciplinary activism. The temptation of commodification is huge and has become a thread to experimentation and the power of subversion of these really strong politically- and socially-engaged creative scenes.
Besides the fact that you are a cultural researcher and a curator, you are also an artist working mainly in video. How would you define your practice?
My video art links theory and practice and grows organically together with a need for documenting my experiences. My videos are experimental and somehow amateur, from the Latin word <amare>. The fact that I do not have any background in filmmaking or editing and that I use a DIY approach is taken as an advantage rather than a weakness. I work with a low budget and using basic tools, so empowering the idea of creative accessibility and practicing ‘learning by doing’ through honesty and dedication. The thread that runs through my creative practice is self-reflexivity and an obsession for the poetics of everyday life as a means to trace and understand different aspects of social action. So far I have developed different video projects in UK, Abkhazia, Morocco, Slovenia, Egypt and Catalonia.
What are your upcoming projects?
The aim for the future is first of all to continue developing CeRCCa. This time not as a residency space but as a platform to develop different projects… I also have applied for a PhD in Art at the University of Edinburgh in order to continue with the development of the NACMM and my own creative practice. Keep your fingers crossed for me!