New Exhibition Walls and Beyond now on view at the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum

15 December 2022
New Exhibition Walls and Beyond now on view at the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum
The exhibition titled “Walls and Beyond,” in which the decoration of walls, a practice as ancient as the history of humankind, meets the oldest form of woven art; brings together over one hundred and ten tapestries from different collections.

Restored and converted into a museum and art gallery by the Sabancı Foundation, Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum - Dilek Sabancı Art Gallery opened its new exhibition titled “Walls and Beyond” to the public on December 10th.

Walls and Beyond traces the historical development of humankind’s natural impulse to decorate walls, beginning with cave paintings and continuing with various architectural decorations such as frescoes and mosaics, culminating in the art of tapestry weaving, one of the oldest forms of textile production. To this end, the exhibition consists of over one hundred and ten tapestries from various public and private collections.

The exhibition was formally opened with a ceremony on Friday, December 9th, 2022, attended by the Governor of Mardin and other ranking members of his administration.

At the opening ceremony, Member of the Sabancı Foundation Board of Trustees, Dr.h.c. Dilek Sabancı said: “We opened the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum Dilek Sabancı Art Gallery in 2009 with the desire to contribute to Mardin’s cultural landscape, developed through the centuries. Since its inception, our gallery has hosted ten exhibitions. This new exhibition, Walls and Beyond, takes us on a journey through the history of weaving, from antiquity to the present. We are very pleased to bring this exhibition to Mardin, the ancient Mesopotamian city in the cradle of civilization.”

General Manager of the Sabancı Foundation, Nevgül Bilsel Safkan stated: “At the Sabancı Foundation, we have been working for nearly half a century to contribute to social development and to leave an enduring legacy in almost every city of the seven regions of Turkey. We are always proud to witness the rewarding results of our projects, and their sustainable contributions to the country, the public and the field of education. Mardin, with its unique history as a cultural meeting point, has special significance for the Foundation. Our grants program has been supporting projects in the region for sixteen years and our Changemakers program has been running for fourteen years. In addition, the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum and the Sabancı Mardin Girls' Dormitory are among our important, long-lasting contributions to education, arts, and culture in the city.”

 In her statement on the exhibition, Director of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul, Dr. Nazan Ölçer added: “We are very happy to be here for this project, perhaps one of the most exciting exhibitions we have ever held in Mardin. This is a subject that not only reflects the city of Mardin, but also goes as far back in time as ancient cave paintings. While planning Walls and Beyond, we asked ourselves several questions: What makes us decorate walls, and what drove painters, sculptors, and photographers such as Picasso and Miro to produce tapestries as well? When did the unparalleled ceramic tiling in our mosques first replace their white walls? And finally, is it not true that the unique walls in Mardin’s churches transport us to a different world entirely? The desire to fill our walls is an important aspect of our artistic traditions, as old as humanity itself. Perhaps it constitutes an impulse to leave behind a mark for future generations, or perhaps it reflects the artists' desire to experiment with and see themselves represented using other materials, to reach a wider audience… These are the questions that have shaped our exhibition. We looked into many private collections and found tapestries in the houses, churches, and Yazidi villages in the Mardin region. We also have two monumental tapestries by Özdemir Altan, which usually greet visitors to the Istanbul Harbiye Radio House, and are being exhibited outside of their original institution for the first time. I believe that our visitors will be especially intrigued by the works of artists such as Vahap Avşar, Belkıs Balpınar, Burhan Doğançay, Gülsün Karamustafa, Zeki Faik İzer, Tulga Tollu, and Gültekin Çizgen, who made contemporary tapestry designs using traditional Turkish weaving techniques.

Walls and Beyond presents traditionally produced anonymous tapestries, featuring mostly religious subjects, along with those made using more modern methods and bearing contemporary design motifs. Once again, this denotes a union, just like the city of Mardin itself… For all their support throughout the development of this exhibition, I would like to convey my thanks to the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum's young director Fırat Şahin, to the Sabancı Foundation, the lending collectors, and to Dr. Dilek Sabancı, who has always encouraged our work through her patronage.”

Walls and Beyond is on view between Tuesday and Sunday, from 09.00 to 17.00 at the Sakıp Sabancı City Museum - Dilek Sabancı Art Gallery. The exhibition will remain open until April 9th, 2023.


In Ancient Greece and Rome, frescoes and mosaics in the villas and palaces of wealthy members of society depicted scenes from everyday life and nature, providing insight into the rich tradition of tapestry weaving as well. From about 1400 onwards, tapestries became an essential part of aristocratic life. Princes or great noblemen sent their tapestries ahead of time, to furnish their castles as they travelled through their domains. Though it has frequently been suggested that tapestries helped to heat stone-walled rooms, their main function was to display their owners’ wealth and social status. These tapestries were portable grandeur, taking the place, north of the Alps, of painted frescoes further south.

Tapestries constituted the most important furnishings of any grand room throughout the Renaissance. By the end of the eighteenth century, European tapestries featured depictions of famous paintings and often copied works woven in the past. In the nineteenth century, the Orientalist movement, which had become fashionable in all areas of art in Europe, also influenced the style and use of tapestries. In the 1920s and 1930s, followers of the Bauhaus movement as well as important artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró and the architect Le Corbusier had their works applied to textiles, opening a new field in art, just as they had with their interest in ceramics. In the 1950s, designers began to create works that broke away from classical tapestries, positioning themselves in contemporary art by bringing new interpretations to traditional production methods.

Throughout history, tapestry weaving was generally an art form reserved for the upper and aristocratic classes. The notion of decorating walls by hanging textiles also found its place in the folk art of rural areas and small settlements, but in a slightly different way. Separated from the urban centres and trends, these peripheries tended towards the traditional arts, oral histories and beliefs, and the legends and heroes of their regions. As embroideries and tapestries depicting scenes from fairy tales and legends, as well as various felts, calendars and photographs, took their places on the walls, landscape paintings of sacred lands and sought-after geographies were not forgotten either. Carpets and decorations adorning the walls of houses, as well as various public spaces and buildings, have survived to the present day by adapting to social changes and reflecting changes in beliefs and tastes as well as new developments in materials and techniques.