The value of the journey: emerging Syrian artist and curator Ghaith Mofeed – interview

Young Syrian artist and curator examines “value” with introspective installation. 

Art Radar speaks with Istanbul-based Ghaith Mofeed to learn more about his recent installation “The value of a cell”, recently on display at Proto5533 in Istanbul, and why the “journey” is important. 

Exterior view of contemporary art space 5533, Istanbul. Image courtesy of 5533.

Exterior view of contemporary art space 5533, Istanbul. Image courtesy of 5533.

Ghaith Mofeed is a newcomer to Turkey’s contemporary art scene. Settling in Istanbul in 2013, Mofeed was born in Douma, a city in southwest Syria. He fled Syria due to the country’s civil war and became interested in the arts after an encounter with Mari Spirito, the founder of Protocinema, where he now works as Production Manager.

Primarily self-taught, Mofeed is one of seven artists and curators to have been awarded a slot in the city’s coveted Proto5533 curatorial programme. His recent installation, “The value of a cell”, provides an “archival-based, genealogical exhibition” tracing the movement of his family and their journey across Turkey.

Art Radar spoke to Ghaith Mofeed to find out more about his exhibition, which closed on 28 November 2015, and his work as a curator and artist.

I have read that you are relatively new to the art field. Is there a story behind how you were introduced to the art scene in Istanbul?  

After living in Istanbul for almost a year, I met Mari Spirito. I then began working in the arts. This year, I was one of seven people selected to participate in Proto5533, an emerging curator/artist exhibition programme. Because of the things I’ve been working on lately, I chose to act more as an artist than a curator for Proto5533 and presented my first solo exhibition ”The value of a cell”, which opened on 31 October 2015.

Tell us about your involvement with Protocinema. What role did you perform for the organisation and what projects did you help support?

I started working for Protocinema around two years ago as a Production Assistant. I helped support ”Diner Noire,” a special event by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Tristan Bera, and the third chapter of an experimental library called “Library on Fire”, conceived by Charles Arsène-Henry. Now as Production Manager of Protocinema’s Istanbul-based projects, I recently supported a show by Latifa Echakhch entitled ”All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain’’.

Ghaith Mofeed. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Ghaith Mofeed. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Please tell us more about your exhibition for Proto5533, called “The value of a cell.” 

It’s the first part of my longer on-going project called ”The journey of a cell from the black sea to the sea of reality’’, which will take many forms, maybe a book. ”The value of a cell” looks at the value of value. It examines the moment when we really know or discover the real value of what we have or that of which we’re living in, compared with what we’re gaining and what we’re losing.

How has it been received by both local and international members of the audience?

The exhibition received a lot of interest from people from all walks of life, especially those who were interested in history and those who had questions about migration and immigration. It also caused others to question the real value of the things that they have. Still others became curious about digging into their own family’s history.

Ghaith Mofeed, "the value of a cell" installation view. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Ghaith Mofeed, “The value of a cell” installation view. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

What was the impetus behind the computer generated calligraphy in “The Value of Value”?

”The value of value” is a Syrian saying. This piece is “written” in computer generated Arabic calligraphy and is a phrase that has been in my mind for some time. It represents a time when I was still living in Syria and I lost someone that I love – so, the implied message is to know the real value of things around you before you lose them.

I wanted to present this powerful saying in a very simple and modern way. I chose colourful script, not the classic look as most traditional forms of calligraphy employ. A pale background shows some cracks, representing the fissures we used to have in our life. The design turned out just as I imagined it to be.

Ghaith Mofeed, "the value of value" installation view. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Ghaith Mofeed, “The Value of Value” installation view, 2015. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

“Beyoflu” is a potted plant piece containing earth from Istanbul and seeds from your great-grandfather’s garden in Turkey’s Black Sea Region. What does this installation say about your very personal experience with migration, loss and rebirth?

”Beyoflu” is a piece of art that is alive. It contains earth from the neighbourhood where I live in Istanbul, Beyoğlu. The seeds come from Trabzon, where my grandfather comes from. I took the original seeds from my great grandfather’s garden and planted it in the earth of the new life I am building in Istanbul. This installation represents the continuation of the cell’s journey and its even more beautiful future.

Ghaith Mofeed, ''Beyoflu'' installation view. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Ghaith Mofeed, ”Beyoflu” installation view. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Please talk about journeys and how you depict them in your work?

I was forced to flee Syria in 2012 due to the increasing danger that my family and I faced as a result of the Syrian Civil War. Embarking on a treacherous journey, I left my country, losing many relatives and loved ones. I eventually made it out. Now as an artist and curator in Istanbul’s contemporary art scene, I am able to trace my ancestor’s journeys between Syria and Turkey and share it with others.

The installation ”The journey of a cell” shows the journey of two men, my great grandfather and his son. The first one left from Trabzon and ended up in Damascus. 70 years later, the son left, going back to the same point his dad left from. The wall installation shows the stages they went through in their lives – showing that this cell always survives and continues its adventures. It is not about the significance of these men’s specific journeys. It is about the human journey, and in particular, the journey that is still going on today. It is about the Syrian’s journey; it is about the journey of humankind; it is about our journey.

Ghaith Mofeed, 'Of Trabzon - Beyoflu' postcard. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

Ghaith Mofeed, ‘Of Trabzon – Beyoflu’ postcard. Image courtesy the artist/curator.

As a young artist and curator, what was the most valuable thing that you learned from your mentor at Proto5533?

I learned that the best things in your work can be created during the process of what you’re making. Working with mentors gave me the chance to develop my thinking and see my work from different angles.

In addition to working with Protocinema, you have also worked for the Istanbul Biennial. Can you tell us about that experience and how you were involved?
I was hired to work as an Artist Liaison for the 14th Istanbul Biennial (SALTWATER) 2015. My role was to support artist Susan Philipsz’s installation, which took place on the Princes’ Islands in Istanbul. It was a great experience! It gave me the chance to take a closer look at the processes behind a huge exhibition such as the Biennial, and I had the opportunity to work together with a great artist in a very interesting location.

What projects are you working on at the moment and where can we see your work in the future?

I am still working on my project “The journey of a cell from the black sea to the sea of reality”, which contains a book of the same name. I started writing during my trip to the Black Sea to visit my grandfather’s village for the first time. I will be able to discover what is the next step as I continue to work on the project.

View of Istanbul Modern Museum and city scape. Image courtesy Istanbul Modern Museum.

View of Istanbul Modern Museum and cityscape. Image courtesy Istanbul Modern Museum.

Istanbul is considered to be a global art hub with many young, local artists. According to you, what makes Istanbul unique and why is it important to the contemporary art scene?

The art scene changes everyday throughout the world and because of this, Istanbul has many young curators and artists who have gone through various journeys of their own. Therefore, it has a lot to offer aside from its important geographical location.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: curatorial practice, emerging artists, interviews, art in Istanbul, promoting art, Turkish artists

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