Servet Kocyigit (b. 1971, Kaman, Turkey). He studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and currently lives and works in Amsterdam. He participated in the artist residency programs: “International Artists Residency Program” Istanbul Modern Museum (2019), JoBurg Now, Johannesburg, South Africa (2016), JCVA Jerusalem Center for the Visual Arts, Jerusalem, Israel (2006), Wilhelm Lehmbruck Residency, Duisburg, Germany (2000), De Ateliers Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1999).
His work has been exhibited widely in museums, festivals, and galleries namely in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Servet Kocyigit’s solo exhibitions have been organized at the Officine Dell’Immagine Gallery, Milan, Italy (2019 and 2014 ),RampaGallery,Istanbul (2015 and 2012), Outlet Independent Art Space, Istanbul, Turkey (2010), Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel (2005 and 2008), and the Nederlands Foto Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2001).
He has participated in numerous biennials including 27th Sao Paulo Biennial, Brazil (2006), 9th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (2005), De Kleine Biennale, Utrecht, the Netherlands (2006), Biennale Cuvée Linz, Austria (2008) and 6th Canakkale Biennale (2018).
In addition to the many group exhibitions he has participated in, he is the owner of the “Shpilman International Award for Excellence in Photography 2016” and the “New Best Photographer of the Year”, Lianzhou Photo Festival (2012), China. The Netherlands received the “Stipendium for established artists” from the Mondriaan Fund. He received a Foundation. Foundation, Foundation and Study Scholarship from the Dutch Visual Arts Foundation (Fonds BKVB). (2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008), Wilhelm Lehmbruck Scholarship. (1999), OC&V fellowship from the Dutch Ministry of Culture (1997), Working Grant from Mondriaan Fonds. Nominated for Prix Pictet (2010) and Fritschy Prize (2006).
Sinem: Hello Servet. I suppose the works that you have done in recent years on the Lullaby, Soft Landing and Mapping Refugee Camps coincide with the pandemic period. I wonder if these works are exhibited in somewhere. Do you have anything to tell us about these works and the ‘Mapping’ work you have done before?
Servet: I have been working with mapping for 9 years now. Just before the pandemic, I had invitation for an Artist residency from Istanbul Modern Museum. We were happily working on project “Soft Landing” with local craft people from Istanbul. Just before the opening of our exhibition “Guests – artists and art craft people” pandemic started. During the pandemic I was focused on ‘Mapping Refugee Camps’ series with mix feelings.
Mapping a different world, a better world was always my motivation. It was also very parallel to my life as a cultural immigrant. It is always a utopic idea to search a land where I feel connected or geography, which I belong. But it was more about search then finding actual place. Maps were the reflection my mental journey and transformation.
Sinem: You seem to be calling out to us from the perspective of a world where refugees are ignored or even considered invisible, with the ‘Mapping Refugee Camps’ work you did after mapping non-existent geographies. Were there any difficulties or people or memories you had in this perspective that you wanted to show us with your works?
Servet: My new series ‘Mapping Refugee Camps’ is continuation of my mapping projects. I created maps of non- Geographies before then I realize there are actually non–geographies exist in this world. Refugee camps are temporary structures?! They don’t have the status of being a city. They are not recognized as a town or village. People are living at the camps are not recognized as citizen of the country where the camps are situated. People doesn’t get identity cards when they born. Everything is run by temporary international laws.
I really felt that I have to at least try to register this situation in an art form.
Sinem: The materials you use in your works are based on different cultures and geographies. I would like to ask this, as I think there is a whole study here. How do you choose these materials and fabrics?
Servet: I always worked with specific materials, also in the past. I believe choosing material is very important part of what you are saying in an artwork. Textiles are not any different. They have history almost as long as humankind. They have cultural, religious, sociological and economical significance. They have different colors, patterns and history behind them. I collected textiles from all the around the world to able to use in my works. Each textile has its own story and that story is important part of my work. For instance I used one type of textile from South Africa. It is called “Shweshwe”. Through this textile alone we can read entire history of colonialism.
Sinem: Back to the mapping works, migration is a reference to the phenomenon of identity and alienation, as well as geopolitical identities and the “intercultural identity” in which different cultures are intervene, even a different alternative world. If this is the case for you, is it ironic to say that borders are anachronistic at the point reached today?
Servet: There is not a single correct map of the world exist, all the maps are incorrect. All the maps/borders created artificially by some people for political reasons. Since the beginning of time, human being was walking to different directions freely. I believe one day it is going to be same again. Definition of geographies can also change in the future. Borders can be just symbolic, bit like Europe. A united Africa or South America can be reality one day.
Sinem: You capture the collective memory of the audience with the discoveries you make with historical sensitivity. In fact, while inviting them to empathize, do you think that your map work can make a difference in people’s lives, perhaps in their activist practices? What are your impressions from the Netherlands in this regard?
Servet: I don’t think directly in their lives but maybe their understanding the world. While I am doing an artwork: I do a lot of research, I discover a lot of things and I learn a lot from process. I try to share this alongside to work in different forms, like this interview. It is important to share the knowledge, which might be used by others.
Sinem: What does ‘displacement’ mean to you? In other words, how do you think immigration shapes people and their surroundings?
Servet: Displacement means leaving something behind to pick up something new. It is a geographical, physical, mental and cultural transformation. This happens sometimes voluntarily (like in my case). But some cases forcefully or by necessity because of political, economical reasons or wars. I believe they have different impact on people. I believe that immigrants are brave people. They are survivors, they have to be. If you approach to life from that perspective you can achieve a lot. But there are also so many obstacles for them. Usually first generation is lost for that reasons.
Sinem: As an example, the body of Baby Aylan’s image washed up on the beach in the past years has appealed to the conscience of many people. In fact, a number of regulations have been created by the competent authorities on the subject. At this point, do you think that art’s bringing the issue of refugees to the visible point still stands in the same place today? Or is our collective memory still weak?
Servet: Artists have their own ways to make this world little better place. We can always discuss that “How effective this methods?” From my angle I found important that I have to underline some problems, ask some questions and put some pressure. After all art also has educational function for future generations. It is an utopic and never ending fight but it is well worth it.
Sinem: Things are getting more and more chaotic in our country and even in the world. How does all this affect you?
Servet: Like every other sensitive person, it also effects me badly. I have got still very strong emotional connection with country I was born and raised. My family and friends still lives there. This sociological waves / chaos happened all the time in the history. I have got a lot hope for the future.
Sinem: First of all, thank you again for your time and finally, do you have any exhibition plans in the near future? Will we be able to see these works collectively somewhere?
Servet: Thanks so much for inviting me. While we are doing this interview I am actually participating an exhibition as a part of SENKRON video event in Istanbul by the invitation from Videoist (April 2022). It is called “Fragmental Nature of Image” I am participating this exhibition with my Video work “99 Years” 2014.
Maybe this work is a good end to our interview. This video work shows a transformation: 2 people creating a globe from a wool yarn. Opposite the other monolith believes of creation, woman and man make it. If you watch the video in loop, you can see the world is created over and over again. Perhaps, each time make it bit better.