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Refugee Community Mosaic

Today is international women’s day. I want to remember an amazing project for international women’s day 2015 that I consider myself lucky to have been part off.

The women4women production inspired and directed by Miriam Engstrom is a project that gives women a chance to express themselves in an event through visual and performing art. The project is set up in a way to encourage women that have never done such thing before to participate in theatre and music performance and an exhibition .

By coincidence Miriam and I lived for some time together in the same neighborhood in Ankara. We had a kind of regular morning walk habit in our local park together and during this  I was expressing my dream of creating a community mosaic to Miriam.  We were speaking about the fact that mosaic making requires a lot of time and that refugees have a lot of time as they are often waiting for years for their applications to be administered and during that time are often not allowed to work officially.

So we came up with the idea of running mosaic workshops with refugees. As Miriam is supporting a refugee women’s group in Kirikkale near Ankara and was in the process of planning the women4women 2015 show the idea of a refugee community mosaic being exhibited at the show was born.

Through Miriams  experience from working with refugee women in Turkey the task had the following constrains:

  1. refugee families are moved around between different designated cities in Turkey and their lives are shattered, so participants  might only be able to attend a workshop for a very short period
  2. each participants should take their work home after the exhibition for to have  something to remember and be proud off

Out of this I created the following idea for the workshop:

Each participant can do one mosaic that is in an individual frame. These mosaics can be hang together as a mural. After the exhibition each crafter can take their part of the mural home and it is a piece of art in itself. This also reflects the situation of refugees and expatriates alike as we are never for long in one place and a mural that appears and disappears reflects the mobility in our lives.

The areas for the mosaic should be small enough to be filled by a mosaic pattern in 2 workshops of each 4 hours. This I was told was a realistic timing for the participants to commit to. We ran the workshops on 4 weekends in February 2015 taking each weekend a group of 12 refugee women for 2 sessions – one on Saturday and one on Sunday  in order to get to at least 40 mosaics. For the logistics we used the network and the facilities of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Ankara and Kirikkale.

In the end I decided to only offer one pattern for practicality and easy teaching. The lines within the geometric islamic patterns symbolize eternity and form very different patterns again and again and again. As these patterns are found in buildings in Syria and Turkey and are very decorative I chose the star from this beautiful decor from the Great Mosque in Damascus.

Damaskus Mosque Detail

A decorative detail of Damaskus Mosque which inspired the star design

In December 2014 I collected all the material and in  January 2015 I tested the timing and materials with a couple of friends that never had done mosaic before and at the same time trained a few volunteers to be instructors. The amount of volunteers from the international community that contacted me during the project was overwhelming and I could almost not handle so much interest and willingness to support the project. Around 70 women produced 50 mosaics not only in making mosaics but also in taking care for the kids of the women that made the mosaics, translated Arabic – English,  talked to the participants about their impressions during the workshops,  gave instructions in  mosaic making, helped hanging the mural and taking it down again, provided catering for the event and took these amazing photos.

Sara& from Iraq

starting with a ceramic frame where the square centre is decorated with mosaic

RCM FEb 14 star beginning

star rays made out of Iznik tile pieces, (which were cut from broken tiles collected from souvenir shops in Ankara) glued onto the star shape that were drawn with a stencil onto the ceramic field

RCM FEb 14 hands sticking marble

then background was filled with grey marmara marble tesserae

RCM FEb 14 hands fitting marble

the most tricky part was to cut and fit the tesserae around the star shape

RCM FEb 15 grouted not washed

grout is setting


RCM FEb 15 washing off grout

grout is being washed off

RCM Feb 15 kids mosaic

Of course the kids did not want to play with toys but with tesserae too …


Look at their creations. Fantastic!

Refugee community mosaic mural

refugee community mosaic at the Farabi Sahnesi

mosaic exhibition foyer

the exhibition in the foyer was complemented by other mosaic and ceramic works and a collection of sayings about stones from different cultures and languages, on stage there was an exhibition of paintings by women


The refugee community mosaic was entirely sponsored by private sponsors and a lot of in kind support: the marble was given and cut by the mermerci for free, participants of Dogal Tas Atelier cut all marble into tesserae, other materials and tools and the exhibition hanging system where sponsored by private persons, one picture framing shop fitted the mosaic frames with hooks for easy hanging, spouses of heads of diplomatic missions sponsored the transportation and food for the refugee women to take part in the exhibition.



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