Mosaic murals at Istanbul Textile Market 

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Matt Hanson explores the mosaic murals at Istanbul Textile Market.


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The architectural designs of the Istanbul Textile Market are one of a kind in Turkey, and arguably the world, as a relic of the mid-century past when modernism had style. Its complex of six open-air building blocks covers a stretch along a busy thoroughfare where traffic bustles under the 4th century Roman archways of the Aqueduct of Valens. It is currently a nexus of wholesalers who inhabit what is generally regarded as the earliest incarnation of a contemporary mall in Istanbul. 

In a city where the traditional “han” or “caravanserai” (a roadside inn where travelers could rest after a journey) of Central Asian and Middle Eastern cultures remains common within the urbanization history of the greater region, there is a certain nostalgic charm to the distinctive labor communalism preserved by the Istanbul Textile Market (known by its Turkish acronym İMÇ). But since its founding years from 1961 to 1967, its inner circle of workers did not only encompass the capitalist commercialism of traders, many of whom currently hawk lengths of industrial fabric, musical instruments and various home goods, but also Turkey’s central canon of modernist artists.   

In the interest of preserving its structural integrity as an essential part of the tangible heritage of Turkish cultural history, the Istanbul Textile Market has itself been designated as an art object. Founding architects Doğan Tekeli, Sami Sişa, and Metin Hepgüler commissioned artists to beautify its exterior facades. They worked with household names like Füreya Koral, a woman who modernized ceramic arts in Turkey, and the painter and poet Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, who, together with his wife Eren Eyüboğlu, and fellow artist Nedim Günsür, produced several mosaic panels that not only serve as abstract decor but explore deep Anatolian motifs and have become instrumental in saving the building from decay and demolition. 

When approaching the Istanbul Textile Market from the Golden Horn inlet via the port of Eminönü, touristic shops selling Turkish delights and woven carpets give way to a grittier reality down the alleyways, where stacks of brick and crumbling concrete are hauled in and out of half-ruined buildings devastated by time and neglect. The air of overburdened dereliction blows strongly against the mosaic artwork of Nedim Günsür, titled, Atlar (Horses) (1967), which stands intact, in all of its faded glory, across the wall of the first Istanbul Textile Market block. The massive scale of the mural is only outdone by the intricacies of Günsür’s mosaic artistry. 

Horses by Nedim Günsür

The surrealistic horses that Günsür meticulously crafted in multicolored cubic stones are somewhat reminiscent of the wispy sketches that Miles Davis drew in his later years as an unhinged genius exploring the visual sphere. Their lines evoke movement, not only of the foregrounded illustrations, but of a multilayered backdrop, a fragmentation of nature and culture commingling with vague semblances of a human form swept into its confluent shapes. The rectangular emergences shift and tumble, warp and surface over a soil-like earth tone that is simultaneously liquid. 

In front of the vast breadth of Atlar, a young man took a break from hauling trash to sit next to an older chap who spent his day charging passersby for the amusement of shooting balloons with a toy gun. They looked at one section of the artwork that had been replaced with cracked, dirty, pinkish plaster. The piece was lightly vandalized with graffiti and worn with missing stones. But despite being exposed to the elements and a relatively grisly part of town for more than half a century, it retained its wonder, and from a distance, had an absorbing, even effervescent lure. That was also true for the next closest mosaic mural, described as an abstract composition by its artist Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, and titled, simply, Istanbul (1965). 

Istanbul by Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu (also shown in featured image at the top of this page)

Istanbul is an ode to the city’s marine ecology, the exquisite fantasies of its countless architectural splendors, and its bygone immersion in what was once a more biodiverse environment teeming with birds and fish, herbs, flowers and myths whose stories echoed from the decks of the ships that passed through the Bosphorus strait, to the heights of the minarets that blared with the voices of the devout. Suffused with a bold sapphire hue, the piece is set with semi-transparent orbs that convey the magic and energy of Istanbul as a place that has ever stood perched on its castled, seaside peninsula at the crossroads of recorded time and civilizational definition. With a soulful and inspired appreciation for Anatolia’s unfathomable intercultural fusions, the mosaic has Hittite, Hellenistic and Islamic influences. 

Istanbul by Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu

As an art teacher during and after the Second World War, Eyüboğlu’s students founded an artist collective called the Group of Ten. Among their confreres was Günsür, who went on to study under André Lhote and Fernand Léger in Paris by 1948, where, with introductions to Picasso and African art, he turned to abstraction. Günsür and Eyüboğlu lived during the incipient era of modern art in Turkey, when their politicized assumption of Western modernity was linked with the nationalism that transformed the obdurate religiosity of Ottoman society into the ostensibly secular citizenry of the Republic of Turkey. Eyüboğlu was part of a painting collective known as the D Group, the fourth movement in a series of progressions that sought to reject rosy impressionism for the industrial realism of cubism and constructivism. 

It is clear from her artwork at the Istanbul Textile Market that his wife Eren Eyüboğlu was as inspired by him as he was by her.

As the classical craft of mosaic art was not traditional to premodern Turkish-Muslim society, Eyüboğlu’s adoption of it in his modernist practice can be seen as an homage to the prolific Greco-Roman heritage of Turkey. He produced some of Europe’s largest and most prestigious mosaic panels, including a piece for the Brussels Fair in 1958 expanding to 250-square meters, and for NATO headquarters in 1960. It is clear from her artwork at the Istanbul Textile Market that his wife Eren Eyüboğlu was as inspired by him as he was by her. Her figurative mosaic Composition (1965) conjures the ghostly, timeless pluralism of Anatolian multiculturalism. There is a biblical diversity in her human figures, accented by their textiles, extending beyond the temporality of history to their persistent presence, one with that very space.