Mustafa Boga reports back on his Red Mansion Art Prize (2016)
By Mustafa Boga, MA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins (alumni)
The Red Mansion Art Prize established in 2002 to promote artistic exchange between China and the UK. Each year one student is selected from each of seven of the UK’s foremost art colleges: Royal Academy Schools, Royal College of Art, Chelsea College of Art, Central Saint Martins, Slade School of Fine Art, Goldsmiths, and The Ruskin School of Art.
The 2016 Red Mansion Art Prize Winner from Central Saint Martins was Mustafa Boga. Here, Mustafa reports back to UAL’s Postgraduate Community on his experience of the prize – where last Summer he traveled to China for one month and was provided with studio space and the opportunity to live and work alongside local artists.
The Segregator – An Alternative Artefact
My experience of being controlled by Chinese government started when I applied to get a visa. In the first attempt my journalism and filmmaking background alarmed them and my application was turned down. In the second attempt, being born in Turkey and my recent visit home had concerned them and they rejected my application again without explanation, request for further information or help. They said I wouldn’t be able to apply again for two months. I was devastated – it felt like my opportunity to make work in china and to experience the culture had been cancelled.
An agency told me that there was a small chance of success if I followed their instructions. First I renewed my British passport, erased all the data showing that I had been to Turkey recently. Secondly, I didn’t mention my Turkish nationality and finally I applied in Manchester rather than London… This time the visa was granted.
During my stay in October 2016 I felt the oppressive pressure towards any type of marginal groups, communities as well as ordinary people. On a number of occasions, when the subject of homosexuality occurred in conversations the subject was avoided. People are afraid of enquiring or reacting, even in very private situations.
China’s great contradiction is to have an economy that is connected to the outside world but a political culture closed off from western values such as freedom of speech and democracy. China is both the world’s newest superpower and its largest authoritarian state, which uses censorship to restrict access to human expression. As a tourist, you go to Tiananmen Square to explore history, but what you find is the sad legacy of a censored past. The name, Forbidden City, comes from the idea that no one could enter or leave the palace without the Emperor’s permission. An oppressive feeling that is still palpable today.
My installation is a representation of my experience in Beijing. I witnessed wealth, growth and power, but also many extremely poor and neglected neighbourhoods. Poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and pollution were in abundance. The detritus of a broken system.
In Beijing, people keep their heads down. In a censored society things are ‘blocked out’. You can never see the full picture. Paranoia is tangible. Faces are represented in layers. The public face, which hides what you really think and feel, the private face which is only revealed to people you really trust, and finally the truth.
In China, ‘the Tiananmen Square Uprising’ is reported on the internet as ‘a myth perpetuated by western media’. ‘Post truth’ is not a new concept in Beijing. Do Chinese people remember what happened in Tiananmen Square? Do they still wonder what happened to all the students who disappeared?
When human rights are abused, people become afraid. Scenes of brutality are remembered in an abstracted form, camouflaged by the colours of nationalism. Drab apartment buildings dominate Beijing. Poorly insulated, harsh, leaking concrete an emblem of endless failings; noble ideals abused. Rows of grey utilitarian windows hide lives further behind layers of dirt and smog. I wondered what lives were really lived behind those impenetrable facades?
While I was in Beijing, I was also interested in the question of whether anti-gay attitudes in Modern China can be significantly attributed to the entrance of Western attitudes, and whether opposition was simply expressed in a coherent manner. Perhaps, those who associated with the homosexual community were also associated with other marginalized group, such as rural-to-urban migrants and sex workers, and therefore the stigma that was attached to aspects of ‘queer’ identity were actually a manifestation of perceived social disobedience.
Although I looked western to the Chinese people I met, I also come from an oppressive culture and it was inevitable for me to reflect my view on this through my performance piece ‘There he is without a proper diagnosis’ .
In the performance I wanted to create an unsettling situation where a queer dystopian figure creates a mist and extinguishes an invisible flame. The powder creates a fog which alludes the ‘clouding over’ that happened when I spoke of my relationship in China.
The stamps on the wall are a reflection of the control mechanism the state has over its people. How many people have been filed, documented and recorded? During the video there is an unseen menacing force at play which comes alive through the shouts of the people living in the housing block reacting to my performance. The residents were curious but too paranoid to ask what was happening.
The performance exploits this paranoia whilst challenging established values. Watching it is an unsettling experience…
An exhibition showcasing the works created by the finalists as a result of their experience was been organised by The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. The exhibition will be held at Kendrew Barn at St John’s College, Oxford, from Saturday 25th March through to and including Friday 31st March 2017.