The UNESCO Struggle and Memorable Title of Ebru Art – Atilla Can

By Aygun Uzunlar, ProMosaik e.V.- We conducted a short
interview with renowned Turkish Ebru artist Atilla Can about UNESCO’s celebration of his
work, and appreciate his cooperation.
Here my video about the three Ebru artists we have interviewed up to now:
Aygun Uzunlar: When and why did you start Ebru art?
What does Ebru mean to you?
Atilla Can: I’ve always been interested in painting
since childhood. I’ve enjoyed using different techniques such as charcoal,
water colour and oil-painting. I realised that Ebru art was a different
technique and its use of water as the canvas made it charming and mysterious.
To gain a better understanding of this art form, I started going to exhibitions
and coincidentally met my master Mr. Ali in the Art’s capital, Istanbul. I took
my first Ebru course on May 29 and my license after different Ebru courses for 5
years. You have asked what Ebru means to me? Is a very meaningful art, just
like a loved one. It is a love that makes me happy and peaceful.
AU: Where is Ebru’s place in Islam and its mystic
Atilla Can: As mentioned in Yasin Sura verse 77; “Doth not man see
that it is We Who created him from water? yet behold! he (stands forth) as an
open adversary!” Also Yunus Emre stated: “I’m a handful of soil, some water. What
to boast?” Yunus Emre accepts water and soil as an essential of the human body.
In Islam, preparation of the worship requires cleaning. The source of
purification is water. It is used in physical and spiritual cleaning. It cleans
bad habits, forbidden, gossips, lies, ambitions, and egos. The man who comes
into the presence of his spirit must be purified. Finally, water is essential to
Islam. Mevlana says, “Your one half is dirt, other one is musk. Be careful,
pull yourself together, don’t increase your dirt, increase musk.” What we
understand from this is that we must increase musk. Increasing musk, depends on
purification. And purification is water based.
So, as a
society with Islam at the heart of its life, we very much value water and we
believe it provides spirituality. Water and coloured soil is the centre of Ebru
art. Ebru artists get used to water and start to learn about it. Water is a
sensible substance. Tragacanth, working fluid of Ebru, senses the beauty or
negations you face. And there is a change for Ebru arHst in his view to Ebru
art and Ebru water. There is a perception in society that believes all Ebru
artists are people with mystic rituals.

There is nothing certain about this. You cannot raise
your morality, tolerance or your honesty just by standing near an Ebru tray.
The important point here is to live a life with musk scent, which means by staying
clean in every aspect of your life after leaving that tray. Of course, the Ebru
tray can be a reminder. Believe me, an Ebru artist’s Islamic musk is the same
as an illuminator’s or a calligrapher’s one. However, if we talk about Ebru,
the peak point of Islamic musk is Ebru.


AU: Recognition of Ebru by UNESCO. What does it mean
to you and how did this happen?
AC: It is a milestone in Turkish Art History, that
Ebru has been added to Intangible Cultural World Heritage list by UNESCO. For
the first time in Turkey, an art has been protected by UNESCO. Ebru art has
written history as Turkey’s 12th element. Exactly 7 years ago, this process
started when i sent a petition to the United Nations and the Unesco Paris HQ
for the first time. In my petitions, I mentioned our Ebru art should be passed
on to future generations because it is a very special art produced by a
different and unique technique. I also mentioned Ebru had a history of 1000
years and that there was an obligation to protect it by celebrating a special
“World Ebru Art Day.” I also wrote petitions and made phone calls to lots of
government offices including our Ministry of Culture and our National Committee
of UNESCO. I stated that I had sent petitions to UN and UNESCO and demanded
things about Ebru. I asked them to officially support for my proposal and work
together as soon as possible. Believe me, it was a struggle convincing people
and offices of my belief in this project. It was a very painful and long
process, but there was a voice inside me telling me not to give up. And I never
did. I mentioned my UNESCO project to all the Ebru artists whom I could reach
all around the world, asked them to send petitions to UNESCO with examples of
Ebru, and state their support for me. As a result there has been a huge wave of
reactions and excitement. Ebru artists all around the world sent their Ebru
works and confirmed their support. Believe me, this letter traffic lasted
months with love. To keep this project alive and create an awareness, we
started to celebrate every second Saturday of September as World Ebru Art Day
with events, exhibits and panels. Beside countries like USA, Czech Republic,
Netherlands and Mexico, lots of cities in Turkey also wanted to host
celebrations, which will be the fifth one this year. We just confirmed that 41
countries will join and support this event. In conclusion, our struggle came
with a happy ending with a win in UNESCO. I’m delighted to be the main actor of
this story. Don’t forget this German quote: “A miracle happens with believers.”
I believed and miracle happened.
AU: What are the main patterns in your Ebru works?
AC: People commenting about my work claim that I have
a naturalist approach. They say that I am a marginal artist. I know they have a
right point. I like to do improvisation. When I received an invitation to the
Netherlands, I did an Istanbul Tulip beside Jan Vermeer’s The Girl with Pearl
Earrings painting. In my exhibit in the USA, I made an Ebru related with the
Statue of Liberty. When I was in Abu Dhabi, I was tempted by Sheikh Zayed Mosque
and painted it. Just think, a construction full of white, surrounded by blue
sky. In 2010, when Istanbul was selected as European Capital of Culture, I was
consulted as one of the best known Istanbul artists, and they wanted to work
with me in a documentation project. I have lots of Istanbul works, using Galata
Tower, Maiden’s Tower and Nostalgic Trams. Sometimes, in my works, there are
butterflies, birds, fish and sometimes a Sema dancer. I really love to include
the important local stuff of countries I have visited. I want passion,
aesthetics, reality and difference in most of my works. It’s very important
that my works should be known without my signature being noticed.
AU: How do we prevent Ebru art being forgotten in
history? And what do you suggest to begin with?

AC: Ebru won’t be forgotten in history. Why am I
saying this? I had this worry 7 years ago and decided that Ebru should be
protected by UNESCO. UNESCO confirmed with a 2014 project and registered it as
12th element of Turkey in Intangible Cultural World Heritage list. An art
registered in this list won’t be ever forgotten, on the contrary it’ll shine
bright like a diamond forever, trust me. My recommendation to begin with is to
understand that this art is a science. Science won’t happen with dogmatism, it
will happen in the orbit of the teacher. I suggest find ing a good teacher and
start as a rookie struggling on a long arduous road. And patience is the key
for this art. Patience brings peace and silence. The enemy of anger is
patience. A patient human is strong. In conclusion, my only advice for starters
is be patient, open-minded, modest and trust the power of science under the
wings of good teacher.
AU: Is Ebru able to promote empathy under different
cultures and religions? How can art contribute to peace?
AC: Ebru is able to promote empathy under different cultures and religions. I want to answer this question as someone who makes his
art all around the world and as a cultural ambassador. When we go to a foreign
country for the first time, our nationality comes first. Turkish nationality
and Muslim identity face some prejudice. I know because I faced it. I want to
tell you about an experience I had. In a foreign place where I took an Ebru
workshop, someone very self-assured came to my event. He did not look at me. When I asked about him, they told me that he was a very important
man and everyone was scared of him because of his title. After half an hour,
everybody was shocked when we were making Ebru with that man everyone was
scared of. That man brought his wife to the workshop and introduced her, he
also invited me to their home as a guest. Everyone asked me how this happened
and I answered “Power of Art.” I have made Ebru with a Prime Minister, with a
kid, with Japanese, Americans, Africans, Buddhists, Christians or
Muslims people. Their common point was that they were HUMANS, independently from their colours,
nationalities, professions, languages, or religions.
Art, of course, is a tool for different cultures or
religions to love each other. Art is the name of love, beauty and peace.
Especially Ebru art can be a key factor for different cultures and religions
getting closer. Ebru art has a different power of charm. There will be a
sympathy between societies gathered for art, I believe this will help to
achieve peace. An artist should never side with war. Like Paul Eluard said:
It is the gentle law of men; to change water into
light, dream into reality,
and enemies into brothers.

To see more, visit the website of the Ebru Association in Turkey: