Beginning in the Autumn of 2019, Günce Pelin Öçgüden began her study of over 100 ship graffiti apparently created by the women of old Mordoğan, on the walls of their mosque.  In addition to their documentation, her Master’s research will also attempt to understand the social context of this important example of a community’s relationship with the sea.

The Ayşe Kadın Mosque in Old Mordoğan, Turkey. Used with permission from Günce Öçgüden
The women's balcony in the Ayşe Kadın mosque. Used with permission from Günce Öçgüden.
During the survey project on the Karaburun peninsula in 2017 and 2018, under the direction of Dr. Çiler Çilingiroğlu from Ege University, Drs. Çilingiroğlu and Cengis Gürbıyık showed us the ship graffiti carved in the Ayşe Kadın Mosque in old Mordoğan village and encouraged us to undertake their study.  At the time, the history, content, and social context of the graffiti were unclear; Gürbıyık’s 2012 art historical and architectural study of the mosque only mentions them briefly.  Two characteristics, however, made them particularly important.  First, they were relatively unknown – no one had completed a systematic documentation of the collection.  The second was their location.  All of the preserved graffiti in the mosque were limited to the women’s balcony overlooking the main prayer hall.  Unlike other examples, therefore, it was possible to assign the creation of these graffiti to a particular group within the local community – a characteristic that could provide important information on the meaning and social context of their creation, and establish a potential analogue for other collections.  Beginning in 2019, the documentation and analysis of the graffiti became the subject of an Master’s thesis by Günce Pelin Öçgüden.

This research project has two aims.  The first is to document the collection of ship graffiti while comparing the benefits and drawbacks of different methods of digital documentation.  These methods are photogrammetry, RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) and laser scanning.   Documenting the graffiti is important because they are in a very fragile state.  Moreover, the fast and accurate documentation of the graffiti is particularly relevant in the pandemic period.  It is a fact that fast and accurate documentation is a necessity in research frameworks of this past century.  Yet the conditions of this pandemic period limiting the flexibility on field research emphasized the importance of fast documentation and post-fieldwork analysis from an unexpected perspective.

Three-dimensional photogrammetry model of the walls of the women's balcony. Used with permission from Günce Öçgüden.
The second aim is to understand and analyze the assemblage, and interpret why and how these graffiti were carved there, as well as by whom.  The previous research done on the mosque by various scholars dates the building’s construction to the 15th-16th century.  However, the wall paintings which the graffiti were carved on provides a terminus post quem of 18th century.  Equally, the ritualistic and performative nature of the graffiti shines a light on the religious and social aspects of the local population of old Mordoğan, while their confinement to the walls of the women’s balcony realistically demarcates who may have made them.  As a result, interviews with the local community may provide additional information on the social and ritualistic elements of their creation.  The fact that it is purely a ship assemblage also reflects the socio-economic dynamics of the region in that period.  At this time, the seaway was the only means of transportation and communication with Izmir, the rest of Anatolia, and the nearby islands, until the 1960s. Hence the sea and maritime transportation and communication had a crucial position in the daily life of the locals, even as they were not on the coast of the sea.

Current research results suggest that the number of graffiti is over hundred and the assemblage consists of both sailing and oared vessels in various sizes and riggings, and produced with various levels of detail.  Equally, the conditions of this section of the mosque makes the documentation of the graffiti particularly complex – without photographic lights, the space is very dark and one cannot even see the frescos and the graffiti.  Some individuals in the village were unaware of the graffiti’s presence.  Furthermore, the space is cramped with a panel that separates the women’s section from the main hall.  The comparative analysis of photogrammetry, RTI, and laser scanning will thus provide important guidance for future efforts on similar collections in similar environments.

This research continues and should finish in the next 12 months.  Now that the documentation process is completed, the next steps include the analysis of the graffiti and a deconstruction of the social context of their creation:  Does the local community retain a history of these images and their purposes?  Why, apparently, did only women in the community make these images?  Are these graffiti emblematic of a larger pattern within the Aegean region?