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Migrant artist with big dreams

25 June 20240 comments

Turkish migrant Merve Alpay has a dream to turn her talent as an artist into a successful career.

Merve specialises in the traditional Turkish art of Ebru, which involves creating colourful patterns by sprinkling and brushing colour pigments onto a pan of oily water and then transferring the patterns to paper.

Described as “painting on water,” Ebru has been practiced in Turkey since the 13th century and sees marbled paper used as a background for calligraphy, religious texts, and to decorate special books.

Now Merve has enrolled in an English course with migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia in Dandenong to help her achieve her goals.

“I’m studying with AMES to be able to turn my passion for art into a career. I want to open a small studio to sell my art,” she said.

“I’m improving my English skills so I can do this. The course is helping me with English, to speak more clearly and it is building my confidence to be able talk to people about my art,” she said.

Merve arrived in Australia in 2021 with almost no English. Since then, she has studied English with the dream of creating an art business as well as volunteering as an art teacher with a community group.

The former school art teacher also creates water colour and oil paintings as well as ceramic art.

“For me art makes me feel good. It helps me connect with people and bring something beautiful to people’s lives,” Merve said.

As an illustration of this, she tells the story of one of her students in Turkey.

“I had a student who was a 12-year-old with a disability. She was a very talented artists but also very shy,” Merve said.

“We made some art together, many pictures, and we held an exhibition. People came and they loved the art and applauded my student.

“She loved that, she appreciated the people liked her art and she felt better about herself and developed more confidence.

“This had big impact on her life and that’s why I love art, it can change people’s lives,” Merve said.

Ebru is the traditionally used to depict flowers, foliage, ornamentation, latticework, mosques and moons, and are used for decoration in the traditional art of bookbinding.

Artists used traditional methods to extract colours from natural pigments, which are then mixed with a few drops of ox-gall, a type of natural acid, before sprinkling and brushing the colours onto a preparation of condensed liquid, where they float and form swirling patterns.

Ebru art is considered to be an integral part of their traditional culture, identity and lifestyle.

The knowledge and skills, as well as the philosophy behind this art, are transmitted orally and through informal practical training within master-apprentice relationships.

Achieving even basic skills in Ebru takes at least two years and the tradition is practised by all ages, genders and ethnicities. It plays a significant role in the empowerment of women and the improvement of community relationships in Turkey.

The collective art of Ebru is famous for encouraging dialogue through friendly conversation, reinforcing social ties and strengthening relations between individuals and communities.