Friday, March 7, 2014

Yabangee Interview with Melanie Mehrer

Thank you to Laurel Green of for conducting the following interview which lets me plug my upcoming exhibition at St. Pulcherie High School and also my love for Hasankeyf. Please join us at the ext ingatherin May 16-19 for some creative play! You just need to get yourself to Hasankeyf to join in the fun!
The original article can be found here:

Meet Melanie Mehrer, an artist who is gearing up for an exhibition in April. She has traveled all over Turkey, including to Hasankeyf, where she helped create a walking guide for the area with the help of local residents and offered free art workshops. Read more about her below! 
Why did you come to Istanbul?
I did my undergraduate degree in Art History, with a strong focus in Islamic Art, even though at the time I had never been to an Islamic country. I was drawn to the architecture of mosques and Islamic geometric patterns. I remember sitting in a course I was taking on Ottoman art history and all of a sudden realizing that everything we had studied that month- Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Islamic Arts Museum and the Blue Mosque were all in the same neighbourhood! I was completely blown away! A few years later, my sister and I did a three-month trip through Egypt, Jordan, Syria and into Turkey. We took a bus from Aleppo to Cappadocia, and then an overnight bus to Istanbul. We had only planned on about four days in Istanbul before we headed down the coast, but I dropped my bags in a youth hostel and said to my sister, “You go ahead, I’m staying here for the next three weeks.” Partly it was because I was tired of carrying those bags, but Istanbul was immediately fascinating, and I knew three weeks wouldn’t be enough. The funny part about that first trip is that the youth hostel we stayed at was across the street from the apartment I eventually lived in with my sister eight years later!
What do you do here?
I do many things here, but my main job is teaching Visual Arts at a Turkish private school. I’m also preparing for the exhibition ‘Printemps Des Artistes’ at Saint Pulcherie High School, which is a fundraiser for Lape Hospital. (The opening is on Friday, April 4th at Saint Pulcherie and is open to the public.) There will be nine artists including me exhibiting work there, so it’s very exciting. I am also doing some contract work for a Turkish publishing company designing book covers and children’s book illustrations, which I am really excited about. I find at the moment I don’t have much time between work and preparing for shows, but I’m hoping once the Saint Pulcherie show is up it will be spring and I will have more time to go out and enjoy some new inspiration in this fantastic city.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced here?
I know the usual answer is the language, which is definitely my biggest challenge. But another big challenge I have had to deal with is having my artwork stolen from my blog and put on things for sale in the tourist areas of Istanbul. I have a lawyer who is dealing with the cases, and I am happy that I have essentially stopped the pirating of my artwork and that the infringers and I are clear that copyright infringement is taken seriously in Turkey.
When it first happened, a lot of people told me there was nothing I could do about it in Turkey and I was silly for trying to stop them. Some people said I should be flattered that my work was so appealing that three separate companies decided to pirate my images. I ask those people, “If I had a really nice camera, should I be flattered if someone steals it?” Of course not. Business is business, the copyright belongs to me as the artist, and I need to protect my business, just as any businessperson would. It’s a lesson I teach my students: you own your ideas. They are yours, and nobody is allowed to steal them from you. Artists do have rights that are respected in this country.
What do you do for fun?
Between work and painting, I haven’t had much time for anything else. But when I want to unwind, I like to go visit my old landlord in Sultanahmet. We sometimes take a bottle of wine to the roof of the building, gossip, and watch the ships on the Marmara Sea. Other times I take my museum card and head into Sultanahmet where I can wander for hours in Hagia Sophia. I have also been researching all of the legends of Istanbul and there are so many in Hagia Sophia, so I go and look for the “evidence.” My favourite legend of late is that the reason the dome of Hagia Sophia hasn’t collapsed in a thousand years is because it was painted on the inside with a mixture of paint and prophet’s bones. I also love the legend of Sinan’s love for Mihrimah Sultan. I recently did a painting of it, which will be on display at Saint Pulcherie in April.
I also like to volunteer for various charity activities that I can support with my artistic skills. I have made backdrops for the British Panto, and I am currently helping out with the poster design for the British Fete at the British Consulate this summer. I also donated artwork that was auctioned off at a Charity for LOSEV. I can’t always give time or money, but I can contribute to the charities with the skills I have and I feel really good about that.
My favourite volunteer activity so far has been to create a walking guide for Hasankeyf with the help of local residents who want people to come out to Hasankeyf and see their jewel of a town. Last spring I went out and did a free art workshop with the kids of Hasankeyf. We gathered in a park and painted pictures of things they love about Hasankeyf and made big puffy paper pillows with them. I was told to expect thirty, and over seventy showed up! Good thing I am an over-planner! It was a beautiful experience and one I hope to repeat again this spring. I hear the kids are already asking about it and want to add some theatre in there, so I have my thinking cap on! You can download your own walking guide of Hasankeyf here.
Where do you unwind/relax? Where is your favourite haunt?
My favourite thing to do in all of Istanbul is go have a drink under Galata Bridge with friends. In my opinion, the Galata Bridge has the best view of the city. You can sit and have a raki, watch the ferries come and go, watch the Bosphorus Bridge change colour, look at the gorgeous cityscape, watch the fishermen above pull up their catch, and listen to the call to prayer from the New Mosque. And best of all, it’s a good point to meet friends because the ferries are right there if you live on the Asian side. Once I was eating dinner under the bridge and there was a large bang! on our table. I felt a chip of ceramic hit me, but then nothing looked broken on the table. After about a minute we realised what happened- a fishing weight has broken off its line and landed squarely in the toothpick holder! It was really quite funny. We decided it must be a good luck charm and I gave it to my friend who was just about to start a journey across Turkey by foot.
What has been your biggest surprise about Istanbul?
The new metro-lines have been a pleasant surprise. I currently live in Erenköy, and commuting to Europe to see friends is a long journey. The first time I took the Marmaray tunnel I timed it and I found it cut forty minutes off my commute! An hour and twenty minutes less of a commute on a given day is a beautiful thing and makes me feel better connected to the rest of the city.
Do you have any advice for other expats?
My biggest piece of advice for people living in Istanbul is to get out of Istanbul. Especially out east. I have been east three times and I love it. My favourite trip so far has been Gaziantep, Urfa, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf and Van. I never felt unsafe in the east and was always treated with respect as a female traveler. It’s an amazing country out there; get out and explore it. Especially Hasankeyf! And take the walking guide with you!

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Perfect Indigo: An Afternoon with Musa Basaran and Natural Dye!

“Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown. Once you're brown, you'll find out you're blue. As blue as indigo. And you know what that means. Indigo. Indigoing. Indigone.”

-Tom Robbins

Mr Musa Basaran, at home in his Atelier! Cherries, wine, cheese, kilims and a friendship started many years ago!

Many years ago when I lived in Canada I wrote a blog about my old Kilim weaving landlord, Musa Basaran called Missing Musa. Lately, even though I have been living in Turkey for almost a year, I was missing Musa again. I decided once summer holidays came and the demands of my job were over, I would go spend sometime with Musa. So imagine my amusement when on the day my holiday started my phone rang. 

“Melanie! Why haven’t you come to visit me?” 
“I’m coming to see you!” 
“Yes really.” 
Okay! See you tomorrow! Come before I go home at six!” 

So I went to visit Musa yesterday and we ate cherries and cheese and drank wine, complained and gossiped and laughed. And he told me that this morning, he would dye a batch of silk with indigo. 
“If you come before nine, you can watch!” 
So I dragged my holidaying butt out of bed this morning and went to Sultanahmet, to watch Musa work his magic. 

When I got there, he was in the middle of a weaving lesson but I sat and chatted with the American woman as she navigated the warp and weft of a barely begun kilim. Every so often, Musa would come out from preparing our dyeing experiment to see her progress. “Uff! You need to come in two warp threads on each side to make a triangle!” Musa would undo this woman’s hard work in a few minutes and whip it back into shape before we had time to actually comprehend what he was doing. 

But soon we were ready to dye with Indigo. Traditionally, urine was used as the acid needed for indigo, but we luckily Musa hadn’t been saving up: we used Hydro Sulphate and Ammonia.

The silk prepared and ties to a stick for easy dipping. 

Hydro Sulphate. Into the boiling pot!

Add half a Turkish tea glass of Ammonia. Musa told me to give it a whiff before I knew it was ammonia. I think I shot out a nostril and several thousand brain cells. 

Indigo! Is not a dye like other dyes. it just coats fibres and doesn’t penetrate- which is why blue jeans fade white and aren’t blue all the way through. 

Indigo is weird because when it hits water, it loses it’s blue colour and turns yellow. The silk in the dye vat looks yellow until you bring it out and it oxidizes in the air. Like magic!

Goodbye, whitish coloured natural silk!

Musa lifts it out to show us how it works. This is yellow turning into blue (now green) when the silk comes into contact with air. 

Yellowish dye vat, but you can see it turning blue where the indigo oxidizes around the rim of the stainless steel vat. 

Musa left this in for only a minute or two- he was after a light blue. 

Next batch! This silk was yellow before it went in- dyed with Buckthorn and Camomile. Natural green is a very hard colour to come by, so you have to dye yellow and blue together to get a green. 

Oooh! Someone is good at green and knows it! he brought it out from the kitchen to show me. 

Nice looking green! I approve.

When you start dyeing, it’s addicting. Musa found some old blue he didn’t like and wanted t make it darker. At one point he jokes that I should give him my skirt to throw in. I would have been tempted, except this crap polyester skirt would have just left me naked in the kitchen with nothing to show for it- you can only dye natural fibres. 

Much better blue! One this I learned in textiles class is that there is a very large amount of chemistry and knowledge needed for natural dyeing. For instance vegetable based materials like cotton and bamboo have a smoother molecular structure, so the dye doesn’t stick as nicely as it does to silk and wool, which comes from animals. 

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble!

Part of the beauty of natural dyes is that the unevenness gives it texture and depth. 

"Melanie! The show is finished!” He said when we were done dyeing with Indigo. But Musa is not used to the show being finished if he still has your attention, so we played with a spindle and he showed  me how to spin with it. 

Spin spin spin! Funny, I usually don’t have time to sit and watch a spinning spindle, but truthfully, there was nothing I would rather do this morning than spend a relaxing visit with my favourite Turkish man. 

Musa also showed me all of his traditional tools- that thing in the back is a wool carder.  

I’ll show you how to use those net lesson!” He laughs.  
“I will bring the next bottle of wine!” I promise as I zip out the heavy door and back onto the back streets of Sultanahmet. 

Thanks for a wonderful morning, Musa! 

Video with Musa dyeing yellow to green:
The many colours of Naturally dyed silk you will find in Musa’s kilims.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Great Walking Guide of Hasankeyf!

“Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that the often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.”

~Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

The Walking guide of the endangered 12,000 year old town of Hasankeyf. Hasankeyf meets 9/10 criteria to be a UNESCO site but the government would rather put it underwater with the building of the proposed Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. 

I have always been fascinated by maps. When I was a child my father once told me I could dig a hole straight through the world and come out in China. I wasn’t sure he was right about that, so I tried digging a hole to see if it were true. Unfortunately a toe-shovel accident ended that expedition, so plan B was to check our globe.

 (By the way, Dad, if I dug a hold straight through the earth, I most likely would have ended up in India!)

But this gave birth to one of my favourite past times- sitting on the floor with that old globe, spinning it as fast as I could with my eyes closed. Where my finger stopped the spinning was where I would go in my imagination. 

John Crofoot told me he was in a cafe in Hasankeyf when a man came in, picked up the map and looked at it. After a moment, he held it up, pointed at the row of sheep and announced, “These are our sheep!"

I had a map of the world that hung in every apartment I have had over the past ten years and I would play the same game, though the globe in reality was much more fun. In Shanghai, the map hung on the kitchen wall and I was amused at how many people, (instead of waiting for me in the more comfortable living room) would stand in the kitchen looking at that map. There is something magical about maps. Of new adventures and life happening in places me might never go, of possibilities of going there, of places we’ve been in the past and places we may go in the future. My map was too tattered to bring with me to Istanbul, but I am on the look out for a new one. 

So I was excited and honoured to be presented a special opportunity this year to create a walking guide for the Village of Hasankeyf in Eastern Turkey for Hasankeyf Matters; a group of people concerned Hasankeyf will be lost forever if the Ilusu Dam gets built on the Tigris.

Welcome to Hasankeyf! The 12th C Artukid Bridge in the background; It used to have a wooden top that could be dismantled in a heartbeat  in case anyone tried to invade. The Tigris, which gave birth to the town of Hasankeyf, may prove to be its demise if the dam becomes a reality.

 In 2009, Rene and I had heard the flooding of Hasankeyf was imminent so we spent an afternoon there. We wandered around looked at the town, bought a few goat hair rugs and left. We snapped pictures of the old Roman bridge, walked through one of the canons and looked at old cave houses and even visited with an old lady who still lived in one. We saw ruins of mosques and a tomb, and stuck our feet in the Tigris and bathed in this little 12,000 year old town. But that’s all we really knew about Hasankeyf.

Friends of Hasankeyf bird watching along the Tigris at the 3rd Hasankeyf In-Gathering. 

So this year, my good friend Jonathan put me in touch with John Crofoot of Hasankeyf Matters and he told me his idea of a walking guide through the village of Hasankeyf to encourage people to discover the important endangered archeological sites scattered through town. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen any of my artwork. He didn’t seem too concerned. 

As John was in Hasankeyf and I was in Istanbul, we hashed out drafts through copious emails and uploaded attachments which were shown to the people in Hasankeyf for their input. I was given a google map to work off of with marked sites, and pictures for each place marked. John, a wealth of knowledge, spent time describing flora and fauna and the colours of Hasankeyf (a freshly plucked deep purple fig which when peeled revealed a vibrant earthy green was one of his descriptions!) Together, the walking guide to Hasankeyf was born. 

The exquisite  Zeynel Bey Tomb.  Zeynel Bey died in a battle against the Ottomans in 1473.

I wanted the map to be a work of art, and playful, as is the town of Hasankeyf. Since it’s so close to the border of Iran and has such a rich history, I wanted it to resemble a Persian miniature painting. I stylized the flora and fauna of the town, 
but it is all still recognizable to the children of Hasankeyf who have pointed out the plants and animals and explained them to visitors! 

Though the map is quie simple, it was one of the most complex projects I have ever worked on and I am grateful to John and Necdet Talayhan for their input on getting it right. 

Someone moved into the Artukid Bridge. The things you can do when a site isn’t protected. 

In April, I was able to go out to Hasankeyf with a group of like-minded individuals  at the 4th Hasankeyf Ingathering and put my own map to use. (I also did a painting workshop there but I will save that for another blog entry.) I can’t really describe the experience very well but to say I felt like the map was a child I’d just seen off to college, and they were excelling at their studies like mad without any help from me. Standing on one of the hills looking down at the town of Hasankeyf for the first time since 2009, I recognised places from my painting and the buildings looked like old friends who I knew well this time around.  The painting is mine but the planning belongs to John and Necdet and they did an incredibly caring and intelligent job. The graphics were done by Marta Marszal (link to her below) 
and I couldn’t be happier with how the map looks. 

I’m not sure how the people of Hasankeyf feel about a foreign Canadian girl painting 
such a bizarre little walking guide of their town.But we all agree if it brings people out to Hasankeyf to walk around and get to know it and feel it’s worth saving, it must be a good thing. 
John and Firat on a hike of the Canyons where we ate Dandelion greens and thistle stalks Firat picked for us along the way. If the flooding happens, Firat will lose his beautiful guesthouse and family home which has a beautiful garden complete with fruit trees that his grandfather planted several decades back. 

I am also extremely honoured that Hasankeyf Matters included the map in their petition to put Hasankeyf on the “EuropaNostra Most endangered sites of Europe” list, and Hasankeyf was shortlisted! The big announcement of whether or not they are officially on the list will come on June 16th. I would like to think the map was the icing on a very delicious cake!

And now the map is yours! Feel free to download it, share it, and if you have the opportunity, use it! 

The Children of Hasankeyf we all given a colour copy of the map to take home. “This must be a treasure map!” they announced! I think that is my favourite reaction to the Walking Guide, because Hasankeyf itself is a treasure that is unique in that it isn’t lost yet. And who wants to lose treasure?

The Walking Guide to Hasankeyf:

Link to Superb Graphic Artist Marta Marszal:

Links to Awesome blogs about Hasankeyf:

Hasankeyf Matters: Essential reading about the latest of Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf matters facebook page:

A common story between Chibayish and Hasankeyf:

The Europa Nostra shortlist:

See you in Hasankeyf!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Muslim Rage! A Collection of Photos from the Muslim World

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharal Nehru

Scary Muslim Girl! Not wait-that’s me! In Oman.
So the American Election is coming up and some timely idiot decided to translate a video putting down the Muslim faith and the red necks of the Muslim world are up in arms about it, attacking embassies and all that. I’ve been seeing photos of burning flags and even Obama effigies.  I’d like to ask the Muslim red necks exactly why are they burning effigies of the most Muslim-friendly president to ever sit in the Oval Office, but I’m not sure I’d get a very clear answer out of them. Obviously they haven’t really thought that one through.

Anyway, Newsweek put out some inflammatory photos in an article called “Muslim Rage” and my friend Anne posted a counterpoint article on Facebook, which I found quote enjoyable. (Link at the bottom of the paragraph) So I posted one to my friend Anne, of a Muslim Grannie who was playing the lute in the square yesterday, and made a joke about how raging she is. Since the photo was shared around by a few people, I decided for fun, to post some of my most “raging” Muslim photos here for your fear mongering or enjoyment, whatever you might choose.

As many people know, I now live in Turkey, but have also lived in the UAE and travelled through Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Oman. Muslims are not scary and idiots are idiots all over the world.


Link to article here. 
Me, My Egyptian Friend Sayed and a Japanese Tourist in Dahab Egypt.
Sayed took my sister and I far out to the edge of the Red Sea at night, far from the lights, to see the most amazing light fish. 

Muslim Mom snapping a photo of her children with Filipino Nanny in tow on the floor of the Dubai Mall.  The Mom and Nanny seemed like they were friends and laughed together over the children. 

I’ll rage after I wake up from my Nap. Sanliurfa, Turkey.
Little Muslim Girls in Sanliurfa taking full advantage of their run of the mosque
while the boys studied Koran outside. 

Shoe fixers, Gaziantep. 

Raging baker and furious customer, Mardin, Turkey. 

Muslim Brotherhood. Gaziantep, Turkey.

This little shoe shine boy caught me taking a picture through the window. Was he pointing or flipping the bird? Ahh, pointing, we’d already snapped pics and become old friends by this point. 

Men hanging around the mosque in Diyarakir. Plotting or gossiping, you decide. 

Okay, I have no caption for this one.
Diyarbakir, guys hanging out with their pigeons in the barbershop. (???)

Scary Turkish peach sellers! Hasankeyf, Turkey. 

Okay, not a Scary Muslim at all, But my sister Rene, resting in the river in Hasankeyf on a hot day, with an entire Muslim family who decided to join her. 

This little Kurdish lady is one of the last cave dwellers in Hasankeyf, and invited us up to check out her place. She practically did a summersault when Rene said a few kurdish words she learned off a friend. 

Are you scared? You should be! They are the scary Muslim future. Posers in Gaziantep, Turkey.

This lady was so frightening she invited us into her house, fed us tea and fruits and cookies, invited the neighbours to meet us, showed us all of her photo albums and didn’t let us leave without a fresh peach each. Gaziantep, Turkey. 

Muslim boys resting after the Imam told them to stop playing soccer in the courtyard of the mosque as the ball was bouncing off heritage architecture. 

Friday Prayers in the Grand Bazaar. I love how the ladies on the left couldn’t be bothered to move. Istanbul, Turkey.

If anyone has a right to be scared, it’s this little boy, celebrating his circumcision scheduled to happen the next day. Istanbul, Turkey.

Mehdi, the Iranian I met on the plane who has invited me to come visit him in Tehran anytime.  He told me to take this picture and tell everyone I sat next to Bin Laden on the plane to Istanbul. 

Usually when you see a man on the floor encircled by a bunch of Muslim men, you’d think something bad was going on. But it’s only bad dancing happening here. Istanbul, Turkey. 

Really Frightening. Really. Istanbul, Turkey.

Scary Pakistani, Jordanian and a  Lebanese man In Abu Dhabi, UAE.  Why exactly do they have so much soda and none of it is Coke? Suspicious. 

Doner Kebap served up with a side of sensationalism. Istanbul, Turkey. 

The lute playing Muslim grannie who was the inspiration for this blog post. 

Really, would you trust these guys? Abu Dhabi Bus Station, UAE.