SoPARTS Spotlight: Iskender Giray

Iskender Giray's art amalgamates the many passions, interests and influences in his life. With a backround in physics and a desire to use sculpture as a tool for change, Giray's thought process and work reveal a multitude of stories.

What drives you to wake up in the morning & what keeps you up at night?
Nowadays, what wakes me up in the morning is getting closer to the birth of our
child who will be born soon. However, the real answer to your question is the small
carrots that I tease myself with. It is generally the drive to conclude a project that I am working
on. What keeps me awake at night is mostly that same drive. However, like most others, I
naturally do not want to wake up in the morning some days. Usually after the end of a
production process. I feel lost during those times. It's a process that is loaded with alienating
questions such as “What have you really achieved with this?”, “Do you really think something
has changed?”. “Did you screw this up?”, “Were you able to get what you dreamed?” and never
ending self-criticisms as such. A period of depression follows this and then eventually I get
excited again for another project.

Why art? Your sculpture often has a story behind it – how has art allowed you to tell stories or
touch sensitive topics?

Nowadays, people tend to listen and grasp the stories and the information contained in these
stories in a very rapid manner. However, they miss the core of it most of the time in this
expedited way of life, or they memorize it due to overexposure by means of listening to and
seeing things excessively but they cannot internalize these cores. At this point, the narrator comes into play. When the narrator steps out of the convention and bring in a different, unique point of view, the story immediately becomes striking or easier to follow. This pushes the listener to think. This is a very natural instinct that we all have. Our brain gets used to good or bad stuff
that it’s exposed to and it raises the bar. This is valid for the painkiller that you take, the movie
that you watch or the joke that you laugh at. When you lose your perspective because you look
at your drawing or model for too long or you get overwhelmed with details, then you
look at the reflection of your drawing or your model in the mirror. The model or drawing in the
mirror becomes a new image altogether in your perception and it shows you the mistakes that
you have not noticed before. Narrating a subject or highlighting something with art is actually
showing a kind of reflection of that subject to others.
If you accomplish your goal, then the
audience will reconsider this subject in the direction that you wanted to highlight. At least that is
what my objective.

photo c/o the artist

photo c/o the artist

What were your motivations to bring social issues into your work? What specific issues do you
try to address through your art?

Turkey is a difficult country to live in. Its really difficult to keep quiet as one witnesses the
obvious. It is nearly impossible to ignore what is going on most of the time. However, the rest of the world is no different. Fascism has been escalating across the globe. Humanity is not giving up the struggle. We reproduce and destroy without control. There is not one single piece of landmass that our garbage has not made it's way to. We have invaded the entire world but we still do not learn from our mistakes. We still live with possibility of nuclear wars, we literally feed on terror and wars encouraged in strategic areas. The car we drive, the animal that we feed to turn into food, the energy that we consume constantly and increasingly releases carbon to the environment except for a few developed countries that can balance this destructive cycle.
I came across a video the other day. The trees planted next to the highway in the Arabian Peninsula have caught fire because of the heat. The person shooting the video is praying with a concerned voice, he is extremely shocked at the scene. Meanwhile, you can see off-road vehicles and large luxurious vehicles passing from the road constantly, you have the reason and the result in the same shot , yet the man still chooses to pray instead of talking about all the carbon unnecessarily released from all these cars. If this story had occurred in the United States, the reaction would still probably be the same despite the different language and religious codes. Human beings cannot even see this piece of simple information in the bigger picture. What’s the use of any information if we do not use it? People actually know better, but we leave the responsibility of knowing to science and implementation of that knowledge to the governments. People blindly believe in the misconception that “They would have taken a precaution if it was necessary”. Some countries have obvious economic limitations. However, I do not know if they put in enough effort as well. If I were to give an example from my own country, it is still running after Hydroelectric and Thermal power plants and trying to establish nuclear plants instead of alternative energy. I certainly do not believe that it shows sufficient effort towards sustainable approaches to the problem. Even giant economies such as the United States of America with one of the highest carbon emission rates fails on putting up a decent effort. They are too busy fighting over petroleum. Today, where there is such a high volume of information flow, we must be absorbing the information that we receive and run after an intellectual revolution. I believe that personal effort is required to resolve and to balance out this chaotic looking situation that we placed ourselves in. Actually, everyone who is conscious about this matter must try to contribute in this regard as a duty. I prefer to use my job for this purpose.

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Moreover, witnessing all the injustice right in front of my eyes and not being able to do anything
about it starts eating me inside out. Consequently, the situation turns into a very strong feeling
and drives me to utilize the idea of ‘gotta do something about it’. This way, I start saying what I
want to say and emphasize it. In reality, on the other hand, I am trying to work on “accepting” what is going on around me since it seems to be a never-ending loop and damages
me emotionally.
In summary, my most powerful emotion at that moment is reflected in what I produce. This way
I try to overcome my concerns or my despair and I feel like I have done my part.

For every pain, there is a pill. For both personal and social “pains”, what is your medicine?
Work. Produce. Do something about it. If I have something to say, then saying it. Having the
courage to do so.

What is a normal day for you like during the artistic process? Do you have any rituals when
you’re working? 
  
I wake up in the morning, have breakfast and start the day by walking my dog at the shore. You
can see the historical peninsula or old town of Istanbul on the other side of the Bosphorus from
Kadıköy, which is the neighborhood where I live in Istanbul. Seeing this sight every morning and evening and living in this area which includes memories of all the cultures, mostly wiped out
now, that has lived on it throughout history has always made me feel lucky. I grab a coffee at a
café in the morning, take my dog back home, change my clothes and go to my workshop. I put
on a music that suits my mood for the day and that corresponds to the feeling that I get from
what I am producing. I usually prefer to be alone but depending on the scale of the project or
the result that I aim to get, sometimes I work with a crew as well. If I am still developing an idea,
I spend the day reading a book, extending the walk that I take with my dog and the time I spare
for drinking coffee. On days like this, I usually don’t go to the workshop. I try to visualize the
project I’m going to do, instead of drawing sketches. I try to do complete the job in my mind in
accordance with the image that I dreamed. I have to complete every stage. Because it is not
always possible to reach the image that you saw. Materials have their limits. Sometimes you
push the limits of your materials and sometimes you choose the right material for the right
result. However, every material has a flavor that it contributes to the job independent of form. It
is like a spice. Therefore, when you are changing materials, you have to consider this flavor as
well.
In light of all of these, I look for a form in my head. It is a long and mentally tiring process. It is a
process that I am happy to be involved in, however, I regard as unpleasant and excruciating
when looked at from the outside. I do not like to get interrupted very much during this process. I
seem like an unpleasant person as I give unpleasant replies to those people who contact me at
those times because I get interrupted. But in reality, I am at my favorite point. I want to stay
focused and stay alone. In the urban life this can only be possible by sitting alone in the crowd
most of the time.
In conclusion, when you look from outside, I get into a cycle of life. I become a happy person on
my own but whom no one can stand at the idea development stage. During the production
stage, I become impatient and almost obsessed when I am being listened to. When I am
working, I am happier and more patient. If possible, I like working without being interrupted. I
do not even shave until I finish the job. Those days when I sleep at my workshop with the same
clothes and start working as soon as I wake up are generally my most productive days. Naturally
these days have really become scarce unfortunately due to my family related responsibilities. If
it can be carried comfortably, I carry my work to my bedroom and I put it at a spot where I can
see it immediately as soon as I wake up in the morning. On the day that my job is finished, I feel
especially happy. It is almost comparable to a sexual peak. If possible, I turn on the volume of
the music and I dance. However, a feeling of lostness and depression follows the next day. Self-
inquiries and self-criticisms come out of this process. And a new job comes out of those... My
biggest ritual is to repeat this cycle…

What does community mean to you? How does that community affect your creative output?
Human being is a weak and social entity. Nowadays, it is being argued that even people who do not care about society subconsciously want to be a part of a smaller community comprised of those who think alike. At this point, I feel like I belong to the whole rather than smaller communities. We would not have existed without a society. Even though there are individual attempts, this is not in line with our nature. However, our approach toward society often seems wrong. As communities grow, it seems like it becomes harder to manage. In fact, some people live to manage. This is their raison d'être. Religions, sects, races… It comes out of the box that is sent to the society to be managed. When Pandora’s box is opened once, then those that come out do not go back inside. It only causes more people to die and suffer. It feeds on hate. Society makes decisions like a single person acting as a sum of people’s thoughts living in that society. In this case, when we think of the humanity as a whole, the image is clear and it is at a level that we should be all ashamed of.
I think the only way to break this hatred, that has been pumped with religion and race until this
moment, is seeing the entire humanity as a single society, is to change our perception of those
concepts such as religion and race. This is a necessity to eliminate the vast differences in culture,
standard of life and knowledge within human population. Once these differences are
eliminated, I believe that all this hatred can be reduced. I am sure that humanity will reach this
result slowly, but it can only be initiated by the individuals making up a society rather than the
states. This vision can be transferred from one individual to another. Only then can this vision be
adopted by the society.
If we were to take a more micro perspective, society is the major variable for peace and
happiness. The job that I do is another method of dialogue and communication. The link they
have is a bilateral search for progress… If I get appreciated while doing this, that just makes me
happy…

Iskender jotted down a list of his influences for us

Iskender jotted down a list of his influences for us

Is there anything you would change in your life, if you had the chance? In the world?
I do not want to be anyone else but my goal is to be better equipped and acquire more
knowledge to develop myself as an artist. In this context, I would have wanted to visit more countries and to learn more languages. The only foreign language I know is English and how much I can express myself in English is debatable.
Social realities did not allow me to even consider studying art. Since I was a child, I was told that
I needed to choose a “real profession” and was expected to select this profession at an age
when I did not know myself yet. Given this, I studied my other passion, physics engineering, one of the core elements of my being and I am extremely happy to have studied this field.
However, financial realities did not allow me to study art even afterwards. So, I had to learn
what I learned the hard way. Even though this is an advantage from certain perspectives
(especially art history), it makes me feel like I am not as qualified. A diploma is an imposed reality
in this word. A few school names written on your CV can come before the work you produce. I
am not sure, but perhaps I would have wanted to change this.
What I want to change in this world is as it may be understood from my responses above, to
eliminate concepts such as borders, religion, language, race. Humanity must come together
without needing a different other, such as aliens, and it must learn from its mistakes.

Can you share a story about social injustice? How do experiences like these manifest in your
work? 
  
Life and the world are both built on injustices. My curse and the curse of others like me is to have a high empathy. When emotions are stronger than necessary, they hurt you. I live my emotions
strongly. When I look at a person with a stomachache, I literally get that stomachache. As I said
above, I am constantly trying to keep it under control a little bit. However, this only works two ways.
When you put yourself in the shoes of the other person, not only do you get his/her pain but you also know what causes that pain. I’m very capable of hurting a person with the right words. However, instead of feeling relaxed afterwards, I feel sad as if those words were meant for me. Please do not get the idea that I am a very good person from this paragraph. As I said, it works two ways and there are a lot of other people much more sensitive than me. When my inner world is in this status, social injustices naturally hurt me and it affects my work in progress.
There are random laws adopted in my country, rapists going free, journalists being imprisoned even though they are innocent. Therefore, I have a lot of stories to tell regarding social injustices. However, I will talk about a mural that I painted for the miners. More than one thousand workers die because of workplace accidents every year in Turkey. This figure is around 20,000 workers over the last 15 years. I am calling it workplace homicide because most of these people are victims of accidents that can be prevented. They work for very low wages. The majority of these deaths which cannot be underestimated is comprised of mine workers. This matter is only discussed for a short while after a mine accident, which happens almost every year, then is forgotten all over again.
The precautions are obvious and most European countries implement them. Requirements such as a “life room” are being disregarded. Necessary precautions are not being turned into laws. The justification is these mine companies not being able to take this burden economically and that they would go bankrupt. The government justifies this but workers pay the price with their lives. Then they want society to have more children. They say it is “fate” after these deaths. They claim that death is in the nature of mining and these deaths are their fate. Part of the society finds these claims right because they cannot understand the actual concept. Their brain has desperately become the victim of the religious side that has been imposed.
I made a stencil on the wall which I squeezed in between my works to highlight this matter. I used a mine entrance that I found online as a model. I especially highlight that I used a photo taken by someone else as a reference in my sketch. I wrote “Would you go inside for 5 TRY per hour?” next to it. It makes approximately 1 Euro. I added “What if you cannot get out?.. Fate” underneath it. I did this in 2014, one day before May 1 st . 13 days after I did this, Soma Disaster occurred. 301 miners lost their lives in the coal mine located in Soma. And there was not even a single resignation. Authorities, ministers, prime minister all naturally said it is “fate”. During these years that follow the disaster, there were no changes that were worthy of note and we continue to have mine accidents. A new accident can occur any moment…

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