Turkish Sweetgum Project

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Turkish Sweetgum Project

A project to promote wildlife art as a conservation project in Turkey.

In June 2016 an EU funded partnership between the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA, UK) and Doğa Koruma Merkezi (DKM, a Turkish environmental NGO) brought together professional artists from the UK with Turkish art students, artists and scientists. The aims of the ‘Turkish Sweetgum project’ were: to build cultural bridges through art and nature; to promote and increase the capacity for ‘Wildlife Art’ as a tool for conservation in Turkey; and to raise awareness of the increasingly rare patches of endemic sweetgum forests (Liquidambar orientalis).

Oriental sweetgum is a tree endemic to SW Turkey, it colonizes flood plains, marshy places and valley sides near streams to elevations of 1800 metres. It is categorised as vulnerable to extinction. It is harvested for its oil which is used in traditional medicine. It was also used as a binding agent in cosmetics but has since been replaced by artificial binders. The oils’ drop in economic value has coincided with increased pressure from agriculture (deforestation and drainage) and the once extensive forests have been reduced to a handful of remnant patches.

Based at the Flora Hotel, Köyceğiz (SW Turkey), 4 SWLA artists and the DKM administrative team delivered a five day programme of field trips, talks, tuition and mentoring to 22 participants from all over Turkey. All the participants had an interest in nature but many had never drawn from direct observation before.

‘This project was my first experience being directly in nature and the outcome was surprising. I have recognised a different potential in myself. Since then, I feel very enthusiastic to go outdoors to directly experience nature.’ Gözde Yurdunmalı (student)

‘Some days I wanted to spend my whole day in the forest and I heard the same from my friends too. We wanted to be whole with the forest over there, we remember we are taking part in nature we just forget it while we are in urban areas. I decided to be more careful about this and share it with other people.’ Gülçin Karaca (student)

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‘One of the most wonderful aspects of the project was to witness how the students embraced the whole idea of being ‘out in the field’ - merely by being out in the field and observing and drawing, their connection with the forest blossoming from an impartial interest into something more significant and deep felt.’ Ben Woodhams (SWLA project tutor)

A public engagement event to promote the issues affecting the sweetgum forests and the natural heritage of the local community was organised in the centre of Köyceğiz for the last evening of the project. Artwork made during the field-trips was displayed in the town centre and the public were invited to take part in a printmaking workshop. It was a well attended, vibrant evening.

An exhibition about the project has been curated and is touring Turkey. A book documenting the project and the issues affecting the sweetgum forests will be published later this year.

Artwork from the project will be displayed in the ‘Out of the frame’ room at the Mall Galleries – London, during the SWLA’s annual exhibition ‘The Natural Eye’. 26th October – 6th November 2016. Visit the Mall Galleries website for more details.

The Society of Wildlife Artists is a registered charity. It seeks to generate an appreciation of, and delight in the natural world through all forms of fine art based on or representing the world’s wildlife. Through exhibitions and publications the society aims to further an awareness of the importance of conservation in order to maintain the variety of the world’s ecosystems and its wildlife. The SWLA also supports and promotes arts based objectives of other conservation and wildlife charities. Through bursary schemes the society has been able to help young artists keen to develop their knowledge and skills in wildlife art. For more details visit the website swla.co.uk

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