Hundreds of tiny birds of different types with diverse expressions on their faces gaze at onlookers in a room where they are meticulously positioned. But it’s only when you get closer to them that you really discover what they are trying to convey to all human kind.
These miniature birds, all exemplifying the fragile nature of this species in particular — but mainly the fragile nature of their raw material in general — are the silent words of an artist who through his art tries to protect what he says is the most important resource of life: the Earth.
In an exhibition that opened on Friday at Sevgi Art Gallery in Ankara, ceramics artist Zati Erbaş displays the tiny terracotta birds he has designed over the past year — since his previous Ankara exhibit, which took place in February 2005.
This is his fifth solo exhibition, and it is titled “Transforming Soil into Jewelry.” Erbaş claims soil on its own can be as precious as gold and silver.
In an attempt to prove his claim, Erbaş explains: “I don’t know how much unspoiled terrain and soil is left on the Earth. I don’t know how much respect is shown to soil, which is the essential element of myths on the creation of the human kind. If one asks what the most precious thing in life is, I would say it is the soil; the source of life, and its ending point alike. What I intend to do is to situate it at a place it deserves to be: turning it into jewelry.”
“There are a total of 400 different forms in this exhibition alone,� says Erbaş — who started creating terracotta birds in 1999 — when asked about the diversity of form in his creations.
Erbaş assembles his terracotta designs as necklaces, with countless designs that also incorporate precious stones such as carnelian and topaz. �As a collector, I don’t encounter too many difficulties in finding varied precious stones to use in my designs,� he says.
Birds telling silent stories:
Apparently garnering inspiration from lengthy trekking tours he takes with his friends — Erbaş is also a former chairman and currently a member of a nongovernmental organization named Doğa Gezginleri Derneği (Association of Wanderers of Nature) — he portrays types as diverse as owls, sparrows and doves.
The first thing that is most likely to attract viewers’ attention in this exhibition is the birds’ tiny forms. But the next thing you discover is that they all have different expressions on their faces; some looking with sorrow, some with anger, some look as if they are smiling.
The smallest birds are crafted with needles; they are even smaller than 1 centimeter, yet they bear even the smallest detail one’s face can express.
And once they come together on a necklace, theymake up a unique story, apart from the overall significance they have. �Each and every necklace in this collection has its own story,� says Erbaş.
And as they are all unique, Erbaş disassembles his designs after every exhibition and creates new designs to tell new stories.
Link with the ancient traditions:
Erbaş, a self-taught painter and ceramics artist, is the sole artist in Turkey who crafts jewelry out of terracotta. �There are many handcrafts from Anatolia that today are completely forgotten, such as horse beads or magic charms,� says Erbaş.
�Jewelry, as a very ancient tradition, is closely associated with magic charms; it has an association with the need to protect what you love. This is also linked to shamanic tradition. And what’s called jewelry today is the descendant of ancient magic charms.�
But, he adds, �Today jewelry has become a commercial matter.�
�People think they �wear’ jewelry, but instead, jeweles gain importance if they are worn by people, and if they convey a meaning,� says Erbaş.
For him, terracotta is a very special material since in time earthenware changes color. As it touches the skin, earthenware reacts according to the skin type of the person who wears it, and so it becomes a personal object. �That’s when jewelry really takes on meaning,� says Erbaş.
Erbaş, during the interview, said this exhibit also referred to one of the hottest topics recently on the agenda in Turkey. Mentioning the toxic waste barrels recently unearthed in istanbul’s Tuzla district, Erbaş said the situation was strikingly ironic as it came amid claims of increasing awareness on the environment from both state and private institutions.
He asks, �How on earth can we people be so neglectful?� So, he says, �Transforming soil into jewelry serves, in a way, as my reaction to what’s going on — besides, it’s a means of conveying my dreams.�
Erbaş’s designs are on display through May 18 at Sevgi Art Gallery on Mesnevi Sokak No: 5/1, Çankaya.
ANKARA – Turkish Daily News