Wednesday, June 4, 2014

little stones, and a farewell to old friends

The Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep is simply stunning— if you ever find yourself in Antep, have a baklava, then visit the museum. The floors and walls are covered in massive, detailed mosaics of mythological figures, animals, and colourful geometric patterns. I imagine the feet that walked on these works of art, the cool stones smooth under toes and heels— these masterpieces which once decorated the villas of the elite of Zeugma. Zeugma was an Ancient Greek (then Roman) city on the Euphrates, an important stopover on the Silk Road.

Who arranged these millions of tiny little stones? I get goosebumps when I think of ancient artists; people whose names and identities have been lost to time, people who worked tirelessly in collaboration or alone to create beauty that has lasted centuries— millennia, even. I like to think of their hands. Their sketches and rough drafts. Their patience.

In her own private room, the museum's most celebrated mosaic is illuminated by a spotlight in pitch-dark:

Zeugma's "Gypsy Girl" stares back at us just as she did so many years ago when her artist first laid down the siennas, umbers, and salmon pinks of her eyes. A student of mine, passionate about art and wildly curious, asked me "of all the faces here, why is hers so special that it deserves its own room?"

Is it the delicate changes in values and colours? The highlights in her irises? That one white stone on her bottom right (our left) eyelid that gives it a sense of wetness? Is it the way she stares straight at us, seemingly right into us?

"Well, why do you think she's special or unique?" I asked, in my Ms. Zaza voice.
"Oh I don't know," she sighed, "she's just so beautiful..."

While selecting the photos for this post, I came across this one and thought I'd include it, though it has little to do with what I've written about above. I know it sounds silly, but I have a thing for shoes— and I don't mean an obsession or anything like that (though Pedro might say I'm in denial on this), but I have a hard time getting rid of shoes. My shoes have memories; they've taken me places and I've experienced things in them. I remember getting this pair of Converse for Christmas one year, and I remember switching out the laces to black shortly after (the shoes faded to a brownish-grey, but the laces remained as black as ever). I rode ferries in them, climbed rocks in them, their soles met the soil of several countries, and withstood monsoons. They carried me through Antep and made it to Istanbul Atatürk Airport, where they finally peeled so badly apart, it was certain that this was their last adventure and they would be of no use to anyone.


Hannibal Lecteur said...

Each little tile of these mosaics are like the pixels of our modern tablets :) The finer they are, the better the effect. A pity there are no more mosaics in our modern world, only bricks and thick cobblestones. It's a lost art.

Amazing photos, thanks for sharing.

Vicky said...

My suggestion for your tired shoes: Draw and Discard. I do this with special things that are hard to part with. When I draw them, I think about the memories associated with the objects and those will come back each time I look at the drawing. I've done this with clothes, toys, old ornaments, and more. The items go on to someone else, but the memories stay-- and it saves a lot of space, too!

szaza said...

I agree with you, Hannibal (and thank you). It seems that everything is turning into poured cement and concrete, block-shaped and plain. Mass-produced, and removed from the hand. How wonderful would it be to still have mosaics for floors? And skilled artisans who we could appreciate?

Vicky, that is a great idea! Sadly, I hadn't thought of drawing them before I tossed them. Next time, though :)