Saturday, August 11, 2007

Interview With Ferhat Özgür, by Anja Tuckermann. 2007

(the photos accompanying this interview were taken from the "shanties" most of which are recently being demolished by the municipatily within the framework of "urban transformation of Ankara" over the last 2 years.

Anja Tuckermann: How was Your Chilhood, Your District?
Ferhat Özgür: I was born in Ulucanlar in Ankara, on “Yan Street” to be precise. On that street there was a prison (Ankara Open Prison House) on the left side and a hospital (known as Ankara Big Hospital) on the right. Neither from the beginning nor from the bottom of that street one was hardly entering to any hopeful avenue, I remember my chilhood like this.

(from the district where I was born), all photos by ferhat özgür

I remember very sorely and very vividly the poverty of my family. I was born in one of the small shanties that was so near to the old downtown. I also remember that my father had enormous debts all the time. He was living with his mistress whereas he was officially married to my mother. I was the last child of this marriage and my father left our family when I was very young. Despite all this poverty I did not quite have a very unhappy childhood. There is no trauma which has been lingering from those years. Our narrow and long street was located in the midst of two opposite structures, one of which was a half-open prison and the other was the Great Ankara Hospital. I am telling you this, because, during my adolescence, while I was playing basketball it was not seldom that we saw either a prisoner escaping or a very badly injured or dead patients were brought to the hospital. Sometimes I heard the screams of the relatives of the lost loved ones.

I think, like many others, when I was 12, 13 years old, I also read many comic books, despite the negative opinion of our families toward these. Texas, Tom Mix, Zagor and Mandrake. I could not buy them due to my pennylessness, yet I borrowed them from my friends regularly. According to my parents’ opinion these books were rather harmful, since they were simply not school books. But I can say that I grew up by reading many books, whether they were textbooks or comic books. I was totally addicted to illustrated books. I used to feel as if I were one of these figures in the books. And the books I hated the most, were definitely all sorts of mathematic books, just because of the attitudes of our teachers.

A.T: What did you buy from your first pocket money?
F.Ö: I went to a cinema where Kung-Fu films were shown, for I was fond of Bruce Lee. I must be around ten or so. Yet I was not aware of the fact that before a Kung-Fu film a porno film was shown as well. To tell the truth, years after I realized that the main aim of these cinemas were to show porno films rather than karate films. Now I remember I was coming across a scene where all of a sudden stark naked people were doing something I could not comprehend, for they were incomprehensibly detailed shots. Like Kung-Fu films, all of us would watch Westerns and immediately after watching these we would imitate these characters in our games. Often I would become an Apachi. Usually we would mimic the Kung-Fu films, not the former ones.

A.T: The cultural life of the environment in which you used to live…
F.Ö:I have to admit that I lacked completely any cultural stimulus. I went to a standard Turkish (state) primary school where no foreign language was taught. But how the ambition of art got into my blood? In general, our teachers would try to teach whatever they knew. They would take us to the theatre or to the movies frequently, organize drama activities and poetry days and painting competitions. None of my brothers and sister was able to finish even the high-school.
A.T:To you, what was the most important piece of furniture in your childhood?
F.Ö:Surely the television set. In our district the first shanty house that had a black and white TV was on the ground floor level and with a friend of mine we were able to watch the TV from the edge of the curtain. Later on we had a radio. In the morning the first thing that I did was to listen to the Turkish pop music programmes from the radio while everybody else still slept.

A.T:When did you make your firt pieces of art?
F.Ö:I must have been in the secondary school, in 1979, when I for the first time intended to draw my family members’ portraits by looking at the photographs.
A.T:What was the first music you bought?
F.Ö:In 1978, I worked like a slave to buy the Village People’s long-play album which contained their most famous song “YMCA” with my first wages during my secondary school holiday.
A.T:How important was radio or TV in your early life?
F.Ö:Radio and TV were so important for me that from my childhood onward I have always thought that I would not have been able to live without them. TV showed motion pictures and they gave me the opportunity to experience in a surrealistic atmosphere, with their abilty of juxtaposing many different images and sounds at the same time, as well as to erase our time perception. A radio, for a real music lover was an indispensable device at our home. Anyhow, the TV entered in our house rather late. The radio, which was present much earlier, would seem to me like the most precious thing. Due to our financial situation I could not attend any course to play an instrument. And not being able to play any instrument has remained inside me an ever-bleeding scar. Of course, years later I got acquainted with the bass guitar and continued to play this for about two years. But after some time, thinking that it was not really possible to juggle too many things at the same time, I decided to give it up and turn back to painting. On the other hand, I sang and played in a group for two years when I was a master student in the university. Many years after everybody got TV in our district, as I told you before, TV opened up avenues for all of us in order to produce later on our own films, albeit they were low-budget ones. We watched TV for having examples of making films and these must have shown to all of us different possibilities and ways of thinking in that field and taught us many new things. Just to give you an example, my oldest friend has now become a film producer and director.

A.T:Who were the most important artists to you?

F.Ö:When I came across with one of Leonardo’s reproductions in our art history book, I found it so striking that I immediately decided to be like him. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” had stucked to my mind as well.

A.T:How did you know you were not a child any more?

F.Ö:Last year, when I had my 40 years behind me.
A.T:As a youth, what information did you get, that informed you about world affairs?F.Ö:
While I was young I began to buy the daily newspaper “Cumhuriyet” (The Republic) twice a week. The Republic was a newspaper the articles of which were so comprehensive and enlightening. I hope that I don’t sound arrogant to emphasize that I am a hard reader. I would always collect novels, and all sorts of art books. Since we were members of all foreign cultural institutions (American Cultural Center, British Council, Goethe Institut, French aund Italian Cultural Centers in Ankara, we are used to spend most of our times to following art periodicals, watching films and festivals. That was why, I was almost fully aware of what was happening around the world.
A.T:How are you living as an artist in this Capital/ Ankara…What do you think about Ankara’s relations with the other cities, espicially with İstanbul?
F.Ö:I do not think that Ankara is as so much of a big player in art environment as İstanbul is. Yet despite everything, one cannot ignore its importance, its force, its contribution to Turkey’s culture and art life. When we consider thoroughly, one should except that many main resources such as artists, writes, actors, newspaper colomnist are Ankara based. Since in general Ankara is deprived of institutional support İstanbul snaps them up after a certain while, through its museums, private galleries or alternative spaces that are so open to every kind of proposals, by suggesting many possibilities. Yet in all sense, Ankara continues to draw attention by her potantial. As an artists I am trying to survive here by keeping my international and local contacts fresh by leaving one my foot always in İstanbul.

A.T:What moment did you first know that you were an artist?
F.Ö:My most respected professor Mr. Turan Erol offered me to become an assistant in our fine arts faculty, in 1993. Up to that time, I was struggling to be an artist, yet from that time onward I am fighting to remain an artist.

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