“You know, children have an irrepressible urge to draw on walls and floors,” the artist and educator Leyla Emektar admits. As a visual arts teacher in Kocaeli, Turkey, she’s learned to celebrate that impulse rather than discourage it. Once, when she and her pupils were working en plein air, a student was struck with inspiration and decided to draw, with chalk, on the wall of the school’s garden. Seeing the illustration–a picture of a small house–Emektar had an idea.
Since that day, she’s collaborated with several of her students to create large-scale chalk murals. “We determine the subject for each drawing and create different sketches,” the artist explains. Usually, she lays down the outlines, and the students color in the details. After the work is completed, the student who came up with the idea for the drawing “inhabits” it, and through Emektar’s photography, the artworks come to life. All of the drawings were made in the same spot of ground, making for a consistent pink background.
Of course, the secret was getting the timing right, as the weather didn’t always align with their plans. “One time, we worked the whole day to complete a drawing, and since it was evening by the time we finished, we postponed the photo shoot for the next day,” Emektar remembers. “Unfortunately, it rained suddenly that night, and the whole drawing was destroyed by the rain.” But they persisted: “we never gave up,” the artist says.
Eighteen of Emektar’s photographs are now stored on the blockchain as part of the hugely successful NFT collection Children and dreams. It feels especially poignant for a project born in chalk, a fleeting medium, to be preserved on an immutable public ledger, where, in theory, it can be enjoyed by everyone, forever.
Though the idea for the project originated in 2008, the photographs in the final series were made between 2015 and 2017. Some of the kids in the photographs are teenagers now. The student who drew that first house on the garden wall is an adult. But Emektar hopes that the photographs will serve as a reminder to all of us not to let go of the innocence of childhood–that urge to draw on the walls and floors simply for the joy of it. Children and dreams takes us under the sea and into outer space; the pictures transport us from snowy vistas to blooming fields of wildflowers.
Still, Emektar’s favorite photograph in the collection isn’t a scene from a fairytale or fantasy. It’s a quiet moment: two figures embracing inside a house, blooming trees and the shining sun surrounding them. If a boundless imagination is a universal part of childhood, so too is the need to feel safe. According to Save the Children, almost 13 million individuals, nearly half of the global refugee population, are children under the age of eighteen. According to UNICEF, 4.3 million children have been displaced due to the war in Ukraine over one month alone, as of late March.
Houses are actually one of the first things children learn to draw, as is the sun. The necessity of belonging and warmth is something we understand from a very young age. “This photo of mine expresses lots of feelings, such as love, family ties, peace, the importance of serenity, children longing for their homes, and people in need of shelter,” Emektar tells me. “It means so much to me.”
All images © Leyla Emektar. You can follow the artist on Twitter at @LeylaEmektar2.