Refugee Community Mosaic

Today is international women’s day. I want to remember an amazing project for international women’s day 2015 that I consider myself lucky to have been part off.

The women4women production inspired and directed by Miriam Engstrom is a project that gives women a chance to express themselves in an event through visual and performing art. The project is set up in a way to encourage women that have never done such thing before to participate in theatre and music performance and an exhibition .

By coincidence Miriam and I lived for some time together in the same neighborhood in Ankara. We had a kind of regular morning walk habit in our local park together and during this  I was expressing my dream of creating a community mosaic to Miriam.  We were speaking about the fact that mosaic making requires a lot of time and that refugees have a lot of time as they are often waiting for years for their applications to be administered and during that time are often not allowed to work officially.

So we came up with the idea of running mosaic workshops with refugees. As Miriam is supporting a refugee women’s group in Kirikkale near Ankara and was in the process of planning the women4women 2015 show the idea of a refugee community mosaic being exhibited at the show was born.

Through Miriams  experience from working with refugee women in Turkey the task had the following constrains:

  1. refugee families are moved around between different designated cities in Turkey and their lives are shattered, so participants  might only be able to attend a workshop for a very short period
  2. each participants should take their work home after the exhibition for to have  something to remember and be proud off

Out of this I created the following idea for the workshop:

Each participant can do one mosaic that is in an individual frame. These mosaics can be hang together as a mural. After the exhibition each crafter can take their part of the mural home and it is a piece of art in itself. This also reflects the situation of refugees and expatriates alike as we are never for long in one place and a mural that appears and disappears reflects the mobility in our lives.

The areas for the mosaic should be small enough to be filled by a mosaic pattern in 2 workshops of each 4 hours. This I was told was a realistic timing for the participants to commit to. We ran the workshops on 4 weekends in February 2015 taking each weekend a group of 12 refugee women for 2 sessions – one on Saturday and one on Sunday  in order to get to at least 40 mosaics. For the logistics we used the network and the facilities of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Ankara and Kirikkale.

In the end I decided to only offer one pattern for practicality and easy teaching. The lines within the geometric islamic patterns symbolize eternity and form very different patterns again and again and again. As these patterns are found in buildings in Syria and Turkey and are very decorative I chose the star from this beautiful decor from the Great Mosque in Damascus.

Damaskus Mosque Detail
A decorative detail of Damaskus Mosque which inspired the star design

In December 2014 I collected all the material and in  January 2015 I tested the timing and materials with a couple of friends that never had done mosaic before and at the same time trained a few volunteers to be instructors. The amount of volunteers from the international community that contacted me during the project was overwhelming and I could almost not handle so much interest and willingness to support the project. Around 70 women produced 50 mosaics not only in making mosaics but also in taking care for the kids of the women that made the mosaics, translated Arabic – English,  talked to the participants about their impressions during the workshops,  gave instructions in  mosaic making, helped hanging the mural and taking it down again, provided catering for the event and took these amazing photos.

Sara& from Iraq
starting with a ceramic frame where the square centre is decorated with mosaic
RCM FEb 14 star beginning
star rays made out of Iznik tile pieces, (which were cut from broken tiles collected from souvenir shops in Ankara) glued onto the star shape that were drawn with a stencil onto the ceramic field
RCM FEb 14 hands sticking marble
then background was filled with grey marmara marble tesserae
RCM FEb 14 hands fitting marble
the most tricky part was to cut and fit the tesserae around the star shape
RCM FEb 15 grouted not washed
grout is setting


RCM FEb 15 washing off grout
grout is being washed off
RCM Feb 15 kids mosaic
Of course the kids did not want to play with toys but with tesserae too …


Look at their creations. Fantastic!

Refugee community mosaic mural
refugee community mosaic at the Farabi Sahnesi
mosaic exhibition foyer
the exhibition in the foyer was complemented by other mosaic and ceramic works and a collection of sayings about stones from different cultures and languages, on stage there was an exhibition of paintings by women


The refugee community mosaic was entirely sponsored by private sponsors and a lot of in kind support: the marble was given and cut by the mermerci for free, participants of Dogal Tas Atelier cut all marble into tesserae, other materials and tools and the exhibition hanging system where sponsored by private persons, one picture framing shop fitted the mosaic frames with hooks for easy hanging, spouses of heads of diplomatic missions sponsored the transportation and food for the refugee women to take part in the exhibition.



THE AYVALIK MOSAIC – finally in Ayvalik – first week

We made it! The mosaic parts and me have arrived safe in Ayvalik. All went well. The only tricky situation during the trip was when I arrived in Istanbul and the costums officer asked me to open my suitcases. Oh I was sweating! They brought an extra art specialist to look at the mosaic but he immediately recognized it as new. I was sweating not only because I feared they would confiscate it but also because I had to open the elaborate packaging – it took me over half an hour to close it again. IMG_6447

Which was  then lovingly handled by our friend Ümit who picked me up  in his red car at Istanbul airport and together with his wife hosted me for one beautiful day in the city by the Bosphorus.

On Monday night I arrived in Ayvalik. Tulya my dear friend fetched me at the bus stop in the middle of the night with my super heavy suitcases. It is so nice to be back and feel soo at home at her house.

But also our house has made good progress. On Tuesday I arranged my workshop in the house. It’s so nice to be reunited with the fish figures that we made in Gaziantep. This week my job was to add the kontur lines around the figures in background color


The workers had to make some changes in the Hamam bathroom.IMG_6459

Wednesday, Dariya a young restaurateur, started to help with the background stones that have to be added to two wall parts.


On Thursday Nazuh started to work with the stone breaking machine that was kindly sent by Kargo from Ankara by Mustafa Salih my first mosaic teacher.


Nazuh also brought the concrete mixer from the Manzara company  to tumble the background stones. (Manzara Ayvalik will later look after our house and let it – click on the link and you see their other properties for rent)

The tumbling works very well. Why did I not enquire  about this earlier?


After one hour of tumbling with a bit of sand and water, the stones come out with beautifully soft edges and all sides equally colored. No polish or rough surfaces left. Very useful !


On Friday and Saturday we searched for containers that have a nice shape for the hamam sink – the kurna. Traditionally it is a marble basin without any drain that stands on top of the bench and holds the water which is baled out  to soak your body with a smaller bowl.


In our hamam the kurna will be molded into the bench and we decided to decorate it with mosaic too. But which shape shall it have? Today we had 5 shapes to decide from.