The name, "Ninu Nina" stems from the alien language spoken by Robin Williams in "Mork & Mindy" ( a popular 1970's comedy show).

Conversations with Naz Cuguoğlu

Conversations with Naz Cuguoğlu

Canavar, Mural ( Ghosts , Red Bull Art Around Istanbul, 2018)

Canavar, Mural (Ghosts, Red Bull Art Around Istanbul, 2018)

Interview with Naz Cuguoğlu

To be honest, I don’t remember how I came across the work of Naz Cuguoğlu who is a wonderful curator and art writer, based in San Francisco Bay Area and Istanbul, but once I read her impressive bio, I knew I wanted to interview her and share this post.

Naz is the co-founder of “Collective Çukurcuma,” experimenting with collaborative thinking processes through its reading group meetings and international collaborative exhibitions. She currently works as Americas Collection Fellow at KADIST and held various positions at The Wattis Institute, Zilberman Gallery, Maumau Art Residency, and Mixer. Her writings have been featured in SFMOMA Open Space, Art Asia Pacific, Hyperallergic, Art South Africa, M-est.org, and elsewhere.

Selected exhibitions curated by Cuguoglu are: Discodaze (Playspace, San Francisco, 2019), Anger is a solution, if anger means kittens (D21 Kunstraum Leipzig, 2018), Ghosts (Red Bull Art Around Arnavutköy, Istanbul, 2018), Restless Monuments (Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, 2018), House of Wisdom (Various spaces in Nottingham, 2018; Public Program of 15th Istanbul Biennial; Framer Framed, Amsterdam; Dzialdov, Berlin; 2017), Survival Kit (Cultural Transit Foundation, Yekaterinburg; Space Debris, Istanbul; 2017), Asymmetric Kin (COOP Gallery, Nashville; Mixer, Istanbul; 2016), and After Alexandria, the Flood (5533 and Recai Mehmed Efendi Library, Istanbul, 2015). 

She received her BA in Psychology and MA in Social Psychology focusing on cultural studies, and currently enrolled at the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts with a fellowship. Cuguoglu co-edited two books: After Alexandria, the Flood and Between Places, and presented at institutions such as Joan Mitchell Foundation, SALT, Norköpping Art Museum, Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans) and Curb Event Center (Nashville).

Greatest inspirations and influences? 

I am constantly inspired by books, libraries, literature—ranging from sci-fi to memoir and magical realism, mostly with female-protagonists—and the women I surround myself with, either through direct conversations or indirect dialogues via their writings. 

 Most interesting or challenging project you have worked on so far? 

As Collective Çukurcuma, we curated a group exhibition titled “Ghosts” for Redbull’s Art Around project in Arnavutköy neighborhood of Istanbul in 2018. Arnavutköy is a traditional neighborhood that is trying to resist gentrification in its own way by still keeping little grocery stores. It was our first site-specific public art exhibition that expanded to the whole neighborhood. It brought some interesting questions with it, such as: What should be the role of curators who are newcomers to an unfamiliar context? There was a mural by a Turkish artist, Canavar, who uses common household bugs as primary motif in his work. The neighbors responded to this work negatively, they did not want to have it in their neighborhood. Then, how can we use this as an opportunity to build a conversation around it? Can we talk about abject, humans’ relation with ugly-looking animals? In a broader sense, about bringing human and non-human together as Haraway proposes in her theory around chthulucene. Thinking about an unknown sci-fi future that might actually bring toxic nuclear cockroaches from down the land, can we talk about the position of the cockroach as the other? I believe that it is important to talk about these, and to open up spaces for each other so that we can use art to empower ourselves.

 What do you think about the art industry at the moment?

The international art world is entangled deeply with capitalist system, it hosts both the privileged, and the unpaid volunteer. It is a place where human relations and networks of power play a vital role. It is also all about being up-to-date, following countless Twitter threads, browsing through Instagram stories, going to openings—a non-stop FOMO. So, if you are someone who’d like to slow things down, and downsize it to an informal talk around the dinner table after work (forming a reading group) as a curatorial practice, then you might have a difficult time in this world. It is an authoritative structure, and the struggle is real, you keep on looking for different surviving methodologies every day. There are many people of color and we have to look out for each other, and work hard to advocate for underrepresented voices in the art world.  

 Most interesting response to your work? 

It has been interesting to see people respond to my writing saying that it made them feel “something.” And they cannot explain or define what it is. It just makes me realize there might be a possible scenario in which you can do you and that you will be fine; this is how life is. When I started writing for art magazines, I never thought of it as creative writing, I just totally repressed that. It was all about copy-pasting the format that was valued by editors that follow Western publishing standards, and just keep on pretending, with small victories hidden in texts in the form of starting with personal memories if I was lucky. After moving to San Francisco, whether because of the Bay Area’s light-headed way of living things, or that because I gave up, I have been feeling closer to my own voice—more personal and intimate. 

 Favourite websites, publications or social media handles. 

What are you working on next?

I am getting ready to write my thesis on Etel Adnan and her leporellos— accordion folded artist books. These works bring together her sketch-like drawings and beautifully cursed dark poems. Etel Adnan has a charm for me as a woman who moved from Beirut to California in a kind of exile urgency. I am amazed by her relation to Mount Tamalpais— not only the protagonist of her many paintings but also an inspiration for her way of thinking about life, death, and nature. 

I’d like to ask you about the situation in Turkey and how that can affect your work but perhaps that’s been asked too many times, and I don’t like asking the same kind of questions as everyone else.

I love the way that you frame this question because this is exactly how I feel about this situation. Like any other place in the world, Turkey is facing a lot of problems at the moment whether it be political, economic, historical, psychological, or sociological, even philosophical—but it is also a place of hope. I grew up in Istanbul and I miss being close to the Bosphorus, feeding seagulls and walking through the streets. The city is just inspirational in the way that it is, and it gives you the power to do things, to fight for everyday—to live and feel alive.

Thank you Naz.

  • Collective Cukurcuma Reading Group meeting (House of Wisdom, as part of 15th Istanbul Biennial’s public program, 2017)

  • Image (House of Wisdom, Nottingham, 2018)

  • Installation image (Survival Kit, Space Debris, Istanbul, 2017)