10 Minutes with Sarp Kerem Yavuz

You live in New York, but still have ties to Istanbul, how does this shape your work and practice?

I sincerely think my projection based photography work Maşallah in which I use traditional Iznik tiles and symmetrical patterns from Islamic art practices, would have never existed if I weren’t far from home. I suppose a little bit of homesickness reshapes one’s relationship with the familiar, exalting it, making it contain a little bit more than it did when it was all around, available. I would also say being in America, where the double edged sword of personal liberties is at its peak, I gave myself permission to make sensual, sometimes (homo)erotic works of art. I’m certain if I were practicing full time in Turkey, a degree of self-censorship would creep in.

Iman installation shot
Copyright Sarp Kerem Yavuz

What has influenced your work the most?

My childhood, my father’s absence. My awareness of my own homosexuality at an early age.

Which five words would you choose to describe your practice?

Beauty, darkness, poetry, male, nude.

Dua by Sarp Kerem Yavuz

What does diversity mean to you?

I have been thinking about this a lot, because American culture is undergoing one of its many well-intentioned and severely brash course-corrections. There is a new term now, called BIPOC, that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It is meant to be in opposition to White with a capital W. But creating such a binary system entirely defeats the purpose of fighting for diversity. The sheer madness that everyone who falls under the nebulous umbrella of BIPOC must have experienced racism in some capacity in the hands of White people (whoever they are?) in the same way, is such a problematic approach to combating racism. I’ll give myself as an example, as a Turk. My skin is more pale than anyone else, yet I am treated as “from the Middle East” on the border, get taken to side rooms before entering America all the time, and have experienced countless instances of racism ranging from “oh but your English is so good!” to “go back to where you came from!”

So in this binary system, whose umbrella do I fall under? And since my experience of racism is wildly different than someone with much darker skin, why are we grouped together as though our problems have the same solution? Is that fair to someone who might get shot by the police simply for walking down the street?

There is no uniform solution to diversity problems because we react differently to people whose skin color is different than to people who believe in a different God. Sure, at its core it is about teaching empathy but on a practical and institutional level, using the term BIPOC is just another cute way of virtue signalling without considering what diversity actually means.

What do you love to do in your free time?

I bake all the time, which is super dangerous during the pandemic due to lack of exercise!

I love playing narrative-driven videogames and sometimes write angry, in-depth reviews of them as well. I also am very lucky to live as an artist because I consider art-making free time, except if I’m rushing things for a show. So in my free time, I take photographs of beautiful naked men with beautiful patterns projected on their bodies, or draw.

You work mainly with photography but have also expanded to other mediums, can you talk about what is your favourite medium to work with and why?

I come from a drawing background, and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in my wrists during college that I pivoted to photography. It’s funny, photographers and puritan photo people in the art world tend to dislike me because I’m quite honest about not caring about the medium, or the type of lens I shoot with. I just care about making something beautiful and arresting, however I can make it. I have been drawing more and more again, thanks to digital tablets. So I’ll say drawing.

Kıvılcım by Sarp Kerem Yavuz

What are you working on at the moment?

I am spending every waking minute working on my first animated pixel artwork. It is a music video for my brilliant friend Alican Yazicioglu aka Phallen. It is kicking my ass because I am basically learning how to do this as I go, and it’s literally one pixel at a time. I love every masochistic second of it.