Exhibition: Ebru and Watercolour
by Angela Minkova
Astri Art gallery, Sofia
Demonstration of classical ebru (an ancient method of drawing on water)
One evening, as I was wearily pondering how the worn-out gilt of my Me and your You was fading away, and whether this world was finite or infinite, and if we were eternal or on the contrary, and what else can I do in this chain of existences … I had fallen asleep. I dreamt of a bird with a crown of long feathers drawing me lovingly on a water surface, the same way I had been trying to do it lately. Then the bird blurred and disappeared with the sound hoop-hoop-hoop.
When I woke up, I felt something strange happening. Still sleepy, I had the feeling that I was about to wake up in the form of a hoopoe, and, similarly to the Persian poet Attar, I was to gather and lead the motley crew of birds inhabiting my neighbourhood, mainly turtle doves, ravens and sparrows, towards the mythical mount Kaf in search of the King, who knows all the answers. At that point, I felt I was turning into ebru. Ebru, the face of water, in Persian it is abrî (ابرى), meaning “cloudy.”
A flood of questions followed: what now; what can I expect; what can I engage in, being an ebru in Sofia, in Europe, at the beginning of the 21st century, when there were no other visible ebru-s around?
That was the beginning of my serious engagement with the ancient art of drawing on water – ebru, the beginning of my endeavor to create self-images I can live with; ebru-s who would be my companions, my Friday. The first attempts were nothing short of disappointing.
I needed real paints and some instructions. I went to Istanbul to buy the original oxide pigments and the needed tools, and there fate took me to the studio of an ebru teacher, with whose help I drew my first tulip – the symbol of Allah. A young, generous woman in a hijab was guiding my hand as if I was back in the first grade.
I came back inspired and began to thicken distilled water with Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) and to prepare mineral pigments with stinking ox gall. I tried to apply the much needed patience so that all the ingredients transform into magical paints, which, when sprinkled with a horsehair brush, float lovingly on the water surface.
Then the paints start dancing wildly, led by my hand/heart, moved by the biz* or the comb; the hues can change endlessly through their mutual embraces, now coming together, now going apart. They never submerge, though, and they never mix up completely.
In these forms, which stagger us with their ceaseless whims to swim and dispose wherever they want, we see the Absolute playing and creating everything to be unique and exclusive. Now I had some idea how I had been created. With love, the same way ebru is created. Ebru – the reality of love, discovering and re-creating itself in the water element.
Perhaps, I will soon share the fate of a real ebru. I will start thinking and talking like an ebru. I will know neither myself nor whether it is day or night. I will not remember who Angela Minkova was. I will be looking at the world with different eyes. To call this future awful would be a lie, since it won’t probably have any influence on my new self.
To unite with God, sufis keep repeating their name or the 99 names of God until they lose their meaning. Maybe I crave to walk this road as well. May be I will succeed in making the perfect ebru. I can’t stop thinking about it and keep repeating; may be behind ebru there is God. Hoop-hoop-hoop
* a kind of needle tool used in ebru