Thursday, March 28, 2013

Learning the Traditional Arts of Turkey

The first few months in Turkey, I mostly found myself falling into the same daily routine- going to school on my service, spending the day with friends and studying Turkish, eating lunch at my school’s cafeteria or out at small restaurants and cafes, coming home and spending the evening with family at home or at our family and friends’ houses, and then on weekends going to places around the city or nearby Cappadocia. If I wanted to do a big cultural activity it involved more communication with  mybroken Turkish and my depending on my family for cool ideas. Now that six months have passed and I’ve gotten to know Kayseri and speak Turkish much better than when I first arrived here, I’ve been able to find more ways to find out about Turkish culture, including its traditional arts.

            Twice a week for the past month I have been attending an ebru class with the two other YES Abroad students in Kayseri. Ebru, also known as paper or water marbling, is a centuries old method of creating designs on the surface of a liquid solution and transferring it onto paper or cloth. It is one of the traditional Turkish arts dating back to the Ottoman Empire, and it continues to be practiced today. Learning ebru has been really interesting - the materials, processes, and results are all very different from other art I’ve done. The brushes are made from horse hair and rose branches; the paint pigments are found in stones, plants, and soil and are mixed with cow or ox bile; the water has a special substance mixed into it that is only found in certain parts of the ocean; and the designs are made by dropping the paint on the top of the water and manipulating them into a number of shapes. There’s an incredible variety in what can be made and no two ebru pieces will ever turn out the same.
            After we spent the first few weeks working on ebru, learning its history along with different techniques and forms, our teacher also introduced us to Turkish ceramic art. We started out working just creating designs on paper and soon moved on to small tile pieces and then a few larger ones. Like ebru, the way the piece looks while it’s being created is very different from its appearance after being completed and fired in a kiln, and the number and type of designs that can be created are essentially endless. The designs are also rooted in Islamic and Ottoman history, and are very interesting to study it from the number of books our teacher has and what she tells us about it, along with its production techniques, patterns, and principles. Taking this course about Turkish ceramics and ebru has allowed us to learn more about arts central to Turkish history and culture, meet Turkish people such as our instructor and others to whom she has introduced us, and learn about Turkish language and culture in general.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Road-tripping to Ankara

At the end of November and the beginning of December, the six of us Turkey YES Abroad students made a set of weekend trips to Ankara.
The first visit included a classic American Thanksgiving dinner at the house of a US Embassy employee who has been very involved with us and our program this year. We got a chance to talk to her again, meet other embassy employees, and eat some of the foods we hadn’t seen in the three months we’d been in Turkey. Over the next two days we also worked on the photography project, “My Ankara,” which involved partnering with developmentally disabled students from all over Turkey to capture images of Ankara from our perspectives. We first attended a workshop at a local photography studio where we learned some of the principles of photography and what to aim for when trying to find an interesting and meaningful picture. Then we were introduced to the other students, and together we spent two days taking photos around Ankara. We got to work with many diverse and interesting students and see Ankara from their perspectives when taking photos together, as well as learn about special education in a different cultural context from our own.
Our second visit to Ankara was for an AFS-YES Abroad camp and the opening ceremony of our photography exhibit. The camp was a good way to allow us to process everything we had learned and experienced since arriving in our host cities with other students in the same situation, and the photography exhibit was even more interesting. We got to see all of our work on display, see the Turkish students again, and meet Turkish and American officials, including a member of the Turkish parliament and Ambassador Riccardione.

Some of my photos from the exhibit.

These two visits we’re a great chance for us to see and explore a new city very different from the cities in which we are living this year. It’s interesting to notice that just like in the United States and elsewhere, driving a few hours to another city can seem like visiting a different country- fashions, trends, behavioral norms, and values vary greatly within a country and add to the cultural diversity between cities. These trips were also an opportunity for us to take part in a service opportunity within our adopted country and working with many different people through the process- the disabled students who were our photography partners, their families and educators, and everyone who happened to notice and interact with us while shooting throughout Ankara or while at the opening of our exhibit. We were able to demonstrate our interest and care for the culture and people of Turkey while working alongside them, meeting them throughout the weekend, learning from them more about this fascinating and vastly diverse county, and sharing this work with others in Ankara, as well as Istanbul, Kayseri, and Gaziantep when the exhibit opens in these cities.

P.S. I know, I'm super behind on tons of stuff to post about (there's still stuff from October and November that I've not written about yet; maybe that'll be my new year's resolution for 2013...) but I'm posting this and at least one post every month since I've got to write updates for the State Department. So here's the December update!