23 October 2010
A fascinating journey through the secrets of 'deq', paintings of hands and other parts of the body
Photographer Murat Yazar is tracing ‘deg’s, which he sees as the “lost and hidden history” of Mesopotamia. Having photographed women and men with deq for a long time, Yazar expresses deq as “the holy symbols turning the human body into a temple”. Besides exhibiting his photographs, Murat Yazar also wants to prepare a book and leave a record of deqs to the next generations.
Orienting his objective permanently on “others”, Photographer Murat Yazar has been photographing deq for some time. It is not definite when his works focused on Urfa and Mardin will finish but he is aiming to document deq, which is now a forgotten tradition.
Murat Yazar answered our questions about his ongoing work.
*How did the idea of a photograph work on deq (tattoo) spring?
- After I started to take photographs, the deqs on the faces of the people in my geography attracted my interest. Besides the meanings people carry on their faces, deq also has a different kind of secret. That’s why I decided to search and photograph it.
*And how do you work? Do you visit villages? How do you find Kurdish women with deqs?
-We come across with deqs intensely as the culture of the Mesopotamia basin. Therefore, besides finding people through my personal contacts with people in the region, I also sometimes go to villages casually and photograph people bearing these shapes.
*In which cities do you take pictures?
-I take them intensely in Mardin and Urfa. For later on, I am planning to take photos also in Şengal region of Northern Iraq.
*Don’t you come across women with deq in big cities of the region too?
-Although deq is commonly seen on people in countryside, it is seen in big Kurdish cities as well. Most of these people with deqs are those who migrated from villages into cities but, at the least, those living in cities also have deq.
-How is deq done?
-Deg is a mixture of breast milk, animal gall and lampblack. The mixture is applied on the skin which is pierced before.
“THEY SAY THEY DON’T KNOW WHY THEY DID THAT”
*You must be listening to stories while taking pictures… What does deq mean to the people you photograph? For what reasons did they have deqs?
-I consider deqs as the lost-hidden story of Mesopotamia because these shapes are like the visual history inherited from generation to generation since centuries. However, people with deqs unfortunately don’t know their meanings or what they had it done. The common answer among the people I photograph is; “Our elders made them on us when we were children…We don’t know their meanings or why they did them. everyone had a one.” The researches made list the reasons of deq doing as follows; “protection from bad powers, enabling luck. Keeping healthy and healing ill people. Symbol of belongigng, nobility and tribe. Sexuality, fertility, beauty. The traces of Mother Goddess- fertility. Preventing diseases and deaths.”
*Can you tell us one of the deq stories you listened to?
-When I asked a 85 year-old Kurdish woman in a village of Urfa why she did that, she gave the same answer with others; “I don’t know, son. Our neighbor did it when we were children. If i knew then what i know now, I wouldn’t have it done because it is a big sin.” I heard similar stories in many places. Further, some of them even tried to skin these shapes from their bodies.
“THE HOLY TEXTS OF LOST TIMES”
*Although some people with deq aren’t aware of it, the drawn symbols must have symbolic meanings… What do the deq symbols express in general?
-Deqs are the holy texts of lost times. The first ancestor of writing. The lines of pleasure, hope, pain and fear on human body. The holy symbols turning the human body into a temple. The tattoo tradition has a historical past going back to the dark ages of humanity in whole Asia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Arabia, East Mediterranean and North Africa. The symbols carry the beliefs of people on their bodies.
Some meanings of the symbols in Mesopotamian civilization are as follows; eye figure, prevention of the evil eye, wealth and plenteousness, star, happiness, tree of life, bird motif and the symbol of life and spirit. The animal figures of tattoos and almost all geometrical figures, by some means or other, imagine blessing Mother Goddess, namely the fertility of mother, life and death. Similarly, the sun and moon motives imagine the source of life and the desire for an endless life. Against devil eye, they are painted on lips, nares, between brows and close to sexual organs. The tattoos on different parts of the body like face, hand, arm, foot and cleavage are generally made for beauty. And some tattoos on nose and face are believed to prevent death.
*If I’m not mistaken, you have photographed just one or two men with deq. Do women have it more or did you choose taking photos of women?
-Compared with men, more women have deq on their bodies. While men generally have deq on temples, arms and hands; women have it on their foreheads, faces, feet and breasts. Moreover, some women have deqs starting from forehead to foot.
“NEW GENERATION DOESN’T HAVE IT ANYMORE”
*We see old women on your photographs. Didn’t you come across any young Kurdish women with deqs?
-As I said before, due to the effect of Islam, many people with deqs regret having it, that’s why the new generation doesn’t have it anymore. In general, people aged 40 and older have deqs.
*I think you are still taking photos… How long will you be taking photos and how will you bring them together with photograph lovers. Do you have any plan?
-It looks like I will take photos for a long time in Turkey. I want to proceed with my work by including Kurdish people in other countries too. I want to take especially in Northern Iraq, in the region of Êzidî Kurds. And in future, I want to prepare a book and hold an exhibition of my photographs. With the book I prepare, I am aiming to hand down this tradition, which will also die with the death of old people.
*Your work on deqs actually informs about your sense of photograph but how do you describe it and your relationship with photographing?
-Photograph is a part of the life that we touch, breathe and see every day. What I am doing is to compile these views in life and to bring an arbitrary order to them. In the history, photographs sometimes changed the state of affairs and sometimes displayed social events to the society unvarnished. And in my photographs, I handle social documentaries and document some parts in human life.
*What kind of subjects have you taken so far?
-Nomadic Gipsies, Saturday Mothers, Caferis-Noah’s Pudding, Deq, Nosairians, Tarlabaşı Urban Transformation Project. I also take photos in the geography of Kurdish people, reflecting their cultures.
Who is Murat Yazar?
Born in Urfa in 1978, Murat Yazar graduated from tourism and hotel management. Since 2005, he has been taking mainly human-themed photos. He has been working documentary in recent years. He personally held many national and foreign exhibitions, some of which are; personal exhibitions on Karacadağ in 2008 and on Nosairians in 2009 in Paris/France, 100 Reflections of Islam group exhibition in Hungary, Sulukule group exhibition in Lille/France and Tarlabaşı group exhibition in İstanbul.
The photographer lives in İstanbul and continues his works as a free photographer.
Translation: Berna Ozgencil