Following my afternoon of overwrought emotion, my fellow students and I were led by Omid to a carpet shop, owned by Adem and his family. Upon our arrival, we were presented with plates upon plates of fresh cherries, and they were to die for. My mood improved significantly with that alone.
Ebubekir, one of the owners, spoke to us at length about the nuances and subtleties within the world of carpets. As he moved through the four different types, he and his partners held up example after example, so that by the time he had finished his 20 minute speech, the floor had risen beneath him, carpet upon carpet upon carpet. To be perfectly honest, what I have always known as "Persian carpets" have never held much appeal for me. They feel too grandiose, too laden with history and saturated color. They demand to be kept clean (But it's something people walk on! Does not compute.), to be taken care off, to be shown off with pride. I far prefer used things, perhaps with cleaner lines, simpler patterns, brighter colors, and less expectations of high society behavior.
Somehow, though, in this smallish, wooden room with my friends, all of the carpets around me suddenly held their own charm. Adem spoke to us about the significance of carpets in the lives of people of the region, the meaning of common symbols, and the evolving use of carpets in the modern world. Carpets serve very practical purposes, as do related pieces such as cradles and saddlebacks, which are now cut and turned into carpets as well. But they also mean a great deal to tribes, who all possess their own unique patterns. As women are married outside of the tribe, they meld their design with that of their husbands family, creating a new pattern for that family. Designs can include symbols for many things, commonly relating to fertility, eternity, and luck. It is, traditionally, a female occupation, to make carpets. Even as they emphasized this, they proudly spoke of their own weaving skills. The bending of gender normative roles only served to please me further.
As I am a broke college student, buying one of their many masterpieces wasn't an option for me, no matter how much their complex patterns were beginning to grow on me. So, I settled instead with asking an obnoxious amount of questions about the process of carpet weaving. Eventually Adem tired of me, and called in his friend and colleague, Mehmet Konukcu, to take care of me.
As he graciously showed me his weaving work on carpets needing repairs, a theme we had been discussing within Islamic art suddenly hit me.
“The jewel is already inside. Get rid of all that is superfluous.”
In Islam, the essential quality of a human being is known as fitra. It is our nature as we were intended to be. Much of what we have come across in speaking with religious leaders, our teachers, and artists, relates back to this. Art, within the context of Islam, focuses on revealing the beauty of God’s creation rather than being something the artist created independent from the divine.
This quality is especially clear within architecture. The glorious and beautiful Sultan Ahmet Mosque was already within the marble, the excess simply had to be carved away to reveal the truth. This is what we need to do to ourselves, to carve away our egos until all that is left is the perfect human being, living as we were intended to. Balance has also been a prevalent topic of discussion, particularly when discussing the names of God in the Islamic tradition, which usually come in pairs. God restrains and expands, abases and exalts. Artists work every day between the two qualities. Beauty is nothing without the grotesque.
Mehmet took us outside, and showed us his materials. When he is repairing carpets, he unravels the ones that cannot be saved and reuses the wool. He recreates the design that had been there before, but disappeared for a spell. As Adem said, "He breathes life into carpets that have died."
His hand skillfully laced back and forth, tied knots and changed colors. It was like magic, and he did it all effortlessly, even needing to slow himself down so that we were able to tell what it was he was doing. I held my camcorder and tried to not let it distance me from the experience. We simply sat and watched him work in awe, a life's passion manifesting itself before us. Destinies are funny things- I don’t know how much I believe in them, or rather, how much control one has over them. But I do know that when you see someone who is on the right path, it's impossible to look away. They're blazing through their excess, and heading straight to the core of their being, letting it be what the world around them can see.