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8 November 2014  |  0 comment  |  Ali Deniz Uslu

'Leaving a genuine trace in this world!'

Veliye Martı's block-printing adventure is a long road paved with passion, hard work and hope.

'Leaving a genuine trace in this world!'

And the road begins with the words inherited from her father, "First, be honest! Then, be the best of whatever you will be!" In her Küçük Ayasofya workshop which is small in size but vast in spirit and world; Veliye Martı is working to carry block-printing into the future. Her passion, her hope can be seen in her eyes. She is always excited because her respect and love for her craft is eternal. She knows the difference between looking and seeing very well. She is constantly after learning, and she preserves the philosophy of block-printing with what she discovers. Just like a time traveller! That's why she says: "My mission is the past, I should have preserved the past, and made the past sustainable. Deer prints, hamamiye motifs, İstanbul prints and flowers...  I track them all!" . Veliye Martı is a person those who follow their passion and live for their dreams should not miss. What she says, what she tells is very valuable, and worth sharing... Not to mention the excitement you will feel to go to the world of wonders of block-printing when you meet her and her prints...

- Some stories, you cannot know where to start because there's always a part missing. This is a hard question but where did your adventure really begin?

My adventure starts with a quote from my father. He would say; "First, be honest! Then, be the best of whatever you will be!" This became our philosophy, it lighted our life, it was always our guide. I received very fine sewing education during the first years of my professional education, I did not like it very much but I was always good at it. Then I understood the value in it when I made stage costumes. Of course, I am a perfectionist but I'm trying to tone it down a bit. Because this can sometime cause some issues as well. After my professional education, I worked with sewing for long years; good education, maturing in time, and learning to work in discipline helped me find my way in block-printing.

- How did you meet bloakc-printing?

Yes, my real breaking point was with block-printing. My life changed with no return.

During the time I lived in Cyprus, I would bring my artist friends there. A mosaic panel I saw in a military cantina there changed everything. That was the difference between looking and seeing! I saw Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu's signature, "What is that doing there?" I wondered, and curiosity took over me. It got so strong that this path of curiosity lead me to Eyüboğlu's house in İstanbul. There I met Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu's son Mehmet Eyüboğlu. I saw the prints next to mosaic panels and something I cannot quite tell started inside me! Ever since that day, this is my work, my thing, my life.

- Block-printing later became your destiny.

After I met Mehmet Eyüboğlu, I said "This is my future." and I started to shape my life that way. I returned to İstanbul from Cyprus. I started to work with him, He also became my first master. We worked in different periods of summer and winter. This is a work of discipline, you have to know and abide by the rules. It is great luck that I had the chance to work in Mehmet Eyüboğlu's workshop in his most healthy and productive periods starting from 1989. I always called him "chief." I never refrained from asking questions, I always traced leads. I learned "what block-printing is, and what it is not" with him.

- Block-printing took you to Tokat, "heart of printing" with your own words.

One day, in İstanbul, I saw the products of Tokat Handicrafts Association, I had very little time so I couldn't show interest but I took their contact information. Then I made a phone call and then I found myself in Tokat. Thus my journey to the heart of traditional block-printing started.

- Did you ever hesitate while you followed your passion?

I never hesitated as I set out, and my spouse always supported me. I took my backpack and set off! I had never been to Tokat before, and I stayed there for three years...

Atıf Arpacıoğlu in Tuğral Girls Vocational High School became one of my first masters, he was from the young generation. And of course, master Hüseyin Er. Here I found everything that there is about block-printing, I studied and researched them.

-Then, what are the holy books of block-printing, which ones should we read to enter this vast sea?

Reyhan Kara-Türk Yazmacılık Sanatı (Art of Turkish Block-Printing) and Kemal Türker-Tokat Yazmacılık Sanatı (Tokat Art of Block-Printing). I wholeheartedly recommend these two books.

-And I think about Kandilli prints.

Yes, artistic prints are from İstanbul, they would be written with brushes in 17th century. Kandilli prints are Court prints... And then there are Kumkapı and Samatya. These districts take the lead, but in old times many places in İstanbul would be full of printing workshops that belonged to Armenian craftsmen. Of course, they are not there anymore! Block-printing means the art of patterning and adorning fabric. This actually exists ever since humanity existed. You know, stone print templates were found in Çatalhöyük. Actually, it obtained the name of printing later on, because what we actually do is "printing." Because we your printing templates. And about the printing, first the pattern would be transferred to the fabric by coal dust, and then it would be drawn over by brush. These are Kandilli prints, they are the court prints. Printing prepares crafts products, which means daily use products. Table cloths, aprons; these are products from within life...

-What are the characteristics of the woods that the templates are made of?

They are all linden trees... But this tree has to be aged for one year first, it matures in time. Humidity is also a deciding factor. Of course, this has become industrial today. I don't want to go into that part of the story much. Because trade is not my business. If I want to do trade, I have look at things differently. Some have to make sacrifices, I'm one of them. As Aşık Veysel said "I will leave my name will remain, let the friends remember me." That's how I think.

I have to leave a trace, a real, genuine trace I have to leave in this life!

The genuine block-printing should remain here. Because these days everything is spoiled, of course everyone is trying to earn their bread and life is hard. I sacrificed many things to remain genuine and lasting.

- Do you make your paints yourself, does each craftsperson have their own formula?

Yes, we make our paints ourselves. Every craftsperson prepares their paint with the formula they get from their master. It's like cooking, every hand has a different style of taste.  Maybe you remember, a smell of gas would come out when you opened chests in the past. Gas is the basis of coloured paint. Gas gives vibrance. And then there is root paint, that is the real traditional block-printing paint. It is taken from astragalus root.  I never said "I'm done," "I know it" in this field as well. I never stop asking, this is true for carving templates and painting all the same. My master's voice is always at my ear, and I always call. Every year we spend 15 days together.


- All your efforts are to preserve the past rather than the new and carry it to the future, isn't it?

I currently have 200 templates, traditional and non-traditional... This is my library. I do not create motifs, I did that in my first years but then I realized my mission is not the new, my thing is the past. I should have preserved the past, and made the past sustainable. Deer prints, hamamiye motifs, İstanbul prints and flowers...  I track them all! I will keep this fight as long as my life, my strength allows it. My only wish is that someone takes over what I leave, that this workshop does not shut down after me. I want my efforts, my collection to be shared and conveyed to future generations. And then there's one more thing; everything seems easy to people these days. For example, they phone and ask for paint formulas. But that is not the case, what you can't buy is the experience, that's why it is important. What's genuine is what's true. I haven't declared my students competent yet, I am just receiving my competence from my master. I am raising three sisters in Mardin. When time comes, I will declare them competent, it is not that easy. 

- What products do block-printing show itself the most?

People want to see it on every product, these days... Cushion, shawl, tablecloth, clothes, curtains... Motifs are so rich! And I am researching with a teacher in Mimar Sinan University about hamamiye pattern.

-How did you come together with Kader Kısmet Workshop?

Life is full of coincidences. Everything started after Sulukule was shut down. I was conducting a block-printing workshop in Marmara University, a Spanish I knew there came to me and talked about their social responsibility projects. I felt ashamed of myself at that moment, because I had never been in a social responsibility project before. I said "Then I want to train the women in Sulukule" and our paths crossed with Kader Kısmet Workshop. I taught general block-printing there. I train people, but always say "you have to print your own motifs" because what matters is to feel and practice where you are. Kader Kısmet moved in this direction as well and Gypsy Dowry came about, they headed out from İstanbul.


- What have you in mind for the near future?

I'm working on female figures, especially female figures in Anatolian civilizations and women efforts... We talked this with Çiçekten Yeşilkaya as well and she supported me. We will open an exhibition. I will prepare the exhibition, the templates and the designs. All the beautiful things came together in Sahi in this context. This is an exhibition we want to realize in 8th of March, the Women's Day. Here, right people meet in the right place at the right time. Sahi, me and Kader Kısmet... And this journey begins in August.

- I have to say this, your workshop is like a temple. 

We make very colourful works here. Foreigners show more interest. People from the other side of the world come here just for the block-prints. This proves how important and valuable our cultural heritage is! Anyone who touches this from one and would burn, fall in love with it. I always lived with passion, whatever I did, I did with passion. My spouse and my prints are my greatest passions. And I want to prepare an Istanbul collection with the guidance of my passion, I am impregnated with the works; the pain is still there and they will be born yet.

- What makes us us is Istanbul, to a great extend. How's your relationship with this city?

This is a vast sea. And we are in Sultanahmet. It is said that "Sultanahmet does not keep in what it doesn't want." Of course it is; many people come here but that many people can't stay and leave as well. This is not just about money. It is about spirit, passion, love, world view...

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