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.