Today we’d like to introduce you to Arzu Ozkal.
Arzu, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Ankara, Turkey. I studied graphic design in college and worked as a graphic designer for several years after school. Those were the days we had to split a Photoshop file into four or five separate diskettes, and single undo would take up to eight minutes.
One event that I attended in my senior year at college was particularly influential. Ben Patterson, American musician, artist, and one of the founders of the Fluxus movement, had visited my university and did a public performance, which some of my friends and faculty participated. The idea of participation and ephemeral art blew my 19-year-old-brain at the time.
As an artist and designer, what I am doing today is pretty much because of that experience, which was also influential in my decision going to grad school, and the mentors I chose to study with. I came to the US in 2003 to get my MFA at University of Buffalo, and studied with Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble; Tony Conrad, avant-garde filmmaker, and musician; performance artist Millie Chen, etc.
Studying with mentors who critically question their fields of study to break grounds helped me rediscover graphic design, and question basic notions of meaning and authorship. My work and research focus on design’s role in looking for forms of creative and critical outcomes through participation and collaboration. Creative exchange is essential to making.
I collaborate with other artists and designers, communities, strangers, and sometimes non-humans. I moved four times after graduate school: from Buffalo, NY to Cambridge, MA, then to Oberlin, OH, and finally arrived in San Diego in 2011 for the teaching position at San Diego State University.
Currently, I am Associate Professor of graphic design. I am a founding member of Home Affairs Art Collective, an interdisciplinary art collective focusing on creative projects about a range of issues impacting women’s lives since 2011. I also run my Design Studio in South Park, where I provide design solutions and consultancy to a few selected clients every year. And, other times I play (do creative projects) with other like-minded artists and designers.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Yes, and no. I came to the US with a green card, which I received from the green card lottery, while I was on a sabbatical year traveling in Europe. My journey would have ended after grad school if I hadn’t come here with a green card. It allowed me to stay after school and look for work. However, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave my family and rather comfortable life behind.
I was already established back home with lots of support from family and friends. But, the grass is greener on the other side. Contrary to the belief that the lottery program “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of American people” I had to go through several interviews and background checks and what not, and finally received my green card, and eventually citizenship.
It is not easy, being an immigrant, having an accent, being the other, but, I love San Diego, love my students, and happy to contribute to this community.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
The focus of my studio, and my art collective, Home Affairs is to create projects addressing real-world problems, raise awareness and foster collective action.
In 2012, we launched a campaign asking museums and galleries this simple question “Does your Gallery, Museum, Conference Center or Festival provide Childcare?” Our project supports inclusivity and diversity in art spaces. It recognizes childcare as an issue impacting artists and includes children as art audiences.
I work at the intersections between design activism and social design, looking for forms of creative and critical outcomes through social participation that emphasizes issues like women’s participation in the public space. Perhaps, what sets me apart is this collaborative or participation based approach to design.
I also do a whole bunch of pro-bono projects and provide non-profit organizations whose causes I value with design services.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite memory from childhood is helping my sister, Ozlem Ozkal with her class projects. My sister was already in college when I was in sixth grade, studying industrial design. Sometimes she would take me with her to her campus, and I would watch her and her friends walking with their T-squares and large portfolio cases, etc.
One day she was rushing to make a deadline. She put me in front of a large-scale hand-drawn illustration. She handed me her very precious Pantone markers, which I was not allowed to touch until then. And, asked me to color the illustration. I was so nervous to make a mistake, my hands were shaking, however, I enjoyed it mightily. That was our first collaboration.
Since then, we have worked on various projects together, and we have recently applied for our first patent with our other collaborator Nanette Yannuzzi.
Scott Wyss, Home Affairs, Nanette Yannuzzi