Cross Culture: Bilgenur Sur
Santa Fe University of Art and Design is passionate about international exchange and collaboration. The community of international students on campus is an important one, adding important perspectives to classrooms and exposing their peers to different cultures. Their experiences as students in a foreign country may contribute to their creative processes and affect their art in ways that native students won’t understand firsthand. It is beneficial to explore these cultural differences and celebrate the diversity they bring to the Santa Fe University campus.
Bilgenur Sur, a sophomore Studio Arts major, is at Santa Fe University as an exchange student from Istanbul, Turkey. She is enthusiastic in regards to her impending experiences being in the United States for the first time. She sees Santa Fe as a unique place where people are open-minded and she can be comfortable, despite small misconceptions in regards to her culture. Sur was able to work around her busy class schedule and speak to Jackalope Magazine on a late Tuesday night.
Jackalope Magazine: What sort of art do you make?
Bilgenur Sur: I love to draw and paint and color, but I’ve never been someone who was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this.’ I was a bit confused and I’m still not sure what my main medium is. The thing is, I like to mix stuff, like using video and installation at the same time. I try to do a little bit of everything so that I can understand myself better.
What is the art scene like in Istanbul?
[The] majority of it comes from Europe and the Middle East. There’s a huge mixture of culture. There are lots of art exhibits, from the huge ones to the small boutiques. Everyone tries to do something.
Were you around a lot of artists when you were growing up?
Yes, I grew up with art but not visual art. My parents come from a musical culture, so I grew up with that but I tried to so something different. It influenced my art a lot. For example, the thing that I want to do is kinesthetic mixed media installations, which can include musical backgrounds and things like that. I really want to try those kinds of things. I also take classes from the music department.
Why did you decide to do an exchange?
My school back in Istanbul was a really big college that also had an art department. But this [Santa Fe University] is only an art school. This sounds like a little thing, but actually it makes a huge difference; even with how people interact with each other. I feel like I can go say something to anyone and I know that they won’t think that I have any bad intentions, even if I don’t know that person. I feel comfortable.
Do you see a difference between art when you’re in America and art when you’re back in Istanbul?
Yeah, I do. It’s a bit hard to explain. With the European style, you read lots of art history and you have to be sort of respectful to the big artists. Here, it’s mostly about making something different. I feel like, here, it’s more supportive. The instructors’ approach is more like, ‘Yes, we can do it better like that! Have you ever thought of doing it like this?’ But back in Istanbul, it was a bit harsher. Here it’s more flexible and free.
What differences have you noticed between the other artists here and yourself?
It’s like our backgrounds are a bit different. Local people here grew up with Disney and stuff like that. I grew up with things like that too, but also with things from my Eastern culture. People say that the world got smaller. I think that it did, but I don’t think it’s small enough yet. I would be surprised if someone here would know an artist from Istanbul.
What are some difficulties that you’ve run into here?
In one of my classes, for the midterms, I had five pieces of work that I was going to show with an artist statement explaining my work. I mostly think of conceptual stuff that can be a bit hard to explain, but an artist statement is supposed to be clear and I had a real hard time with that.
Do you think it’s hard to explain your art in a foreign language?
Actually, it’s not hard but it takes some time. I’m a bit slower. For example, I would definitely prefer writing instead of just speaking; that way I would feel more grounded.
When did you learn English?
In Turkey you have to know English. Since primary school you have to take those classes. I also took German classes and Italian classes.
Are there any things in your culture or your country that you’ve wanted to express through your art?
Yeah, politics in Turkey is in such chaos, and in the time that I grew up there was so much terror and stuff. Right now I don’t try to put that in my art but in the future I probably will. Right now what I try to do with my art is try to understand who I am, mostly. I believe that all of these other things like politics all have left scars on me. So actually, while I put myself in the art there are some parts of that included. But it’s like baby steps.
Do you think it’s important for artists to learn about other places in the world instead of just staying in their own country and learning about art there?
Everything changes a lot when you change your environment. It can really change how you think. Someone’s artwork is like their inner self. If you just stay in one place and just study there…I don’t know, I just believe that people would want to seek some other thing.
How do you think that your character has changed since you’ve studied here?
I’ve gained a lot of confidence. You change your environment completely and talk in a different language. I mean, it would be so much more relaxed if I were talking to other foreign people, but your daily life, your habits, everything has to change to adapt so it makes you more flexible.
Is there anything that’s been completely different from in Istanbul?
Haha, you don’t get shopping bags here.
Do you like to go to any galleries or anything in Santa Fe?
Yeah. All of my days are full with classes, so I just have weekends and stuff like that. I can’t go so much. But when I do go there, I like it. You know, you have a lot of little art galleries where you can just go in and then get out of that then go into another one; I love that. I also like the O’Keeffe Museum and the Saint Miguel Mission.
What’s your favorite part about studying in a different country?
It just gives you another white paper to write your life on.
This interview has been edited for style and clarity.