Cover Feature:

Istanbul

By Payal Khandelwal • Issue 4, August 2017

Towards the end of 2015, we got to interact with Kürşat Bayhan, a photojournalist based in Istanbul, for one of the initial stories on TFM. The day we actually published the story was also the day a terror attack took place in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district – one of the many in the series of violent atrocities that have fallen on the mighty Istanbul in the recent years. Our conversation with Kürşat, and everything else that followed, brought us closer to the city and made us want to scrape its shell to get at least acquainted with its soul. Through our interactions with many creatives in Istanbul over the last few months, we got to see that while the soul is undoubtedly battered and bruised, it is also still filled with an immense amount of hope, kept alive through creativity.

Istanbul bathes in so much spectacular past. Its present is mired with deranged terror attacks, colossal political upheavals and many attempts to butcher press and creativity itself, but it is also filled with a community of bold contemporary creatives who are slowly laying a foundation for its better future. While the historical charm of Istanbul presents itself in all its nakedness and glory, its fascinating contemporary culture is still peeling and presenting itself layer by layer.

TFM talks to six contemporary creatives, who are either from Istanbul or have made Istanbul their home, about their personal relationships with the city, the influences they draw from it, their favorite parts about and of the city, and recommendations for those who, like us, want to explore the contemporary visual culture of Istanbul extensively.

——
Görkem Keser, photojournalist

Tell us a bit about your association with Istanbul.

I was born and grew up in Istanbul. My mother and my grandparents were also born here. I don’t care much about being born here though because I consider myself a global citizen and I didn’t choose my birthplace.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? How does it inspire you/your work?

Istanbul is such a beautiful city that it inspires many people to write poetry. There are people who long for it when they’re away. But to me, Istanbul has always been a city of chaos, crowd and brute. It was more livable in the past, but now things like politics, sacrificing nature for the sake of profit, etc. have changed the very soul of the city.

You can be fascinated by Istanbul for a short time, but when you live here you see how exhausting it can be. Not long ago, the citizens of Istanbul stood up for Taksim Gezi Park, one of the few remaining green spaces as many others have been lost during the conflicts. The citizens didn’t let the park get destroyed and it was a very important gesture as it showed that they are ready to protect the city. The deterioration of the city, however, continues with new buildings.

Regardless, Istanbul absolutely inspires my works because I consider myself a documentary maker. The city itself is my playground. And whether it is street photography or photojournalism, the most important element is the city.

What are some of your personal favorite places/districts in Istanbul? Any particular recommendations?

My favorite district is Beyoğlu- Karaköy-Sirkeci. Despite being crowded, there are many churches, historical buildings, street musicians, graffiti and art centers there. The district has a rich cultural diversity. You can get around on foot, and an all day, detailed tour could help you discover many things.

If you could walk around Istanbul with someone familiar to the city (for safety reasons), that would be the most exciting experience. On one street you may see people performing a prayer, while on another you may see people dancing. You may even encounter religious Muslims in a church. If you’re interested in that kind of experience, there are many interesting places such as Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul Modern, Gezi Park, SALT Galata and Galata Mevlevi Museum (whirling dervish hall) that can be visited.

Istanbul’s photographs by Görkem Keser

 

——
Naz Cuguoğlu and Mine Kaplangi, co-founders of Collective Çukurcuma

Left: Naz Cuguoğlu, Right: Mine Kaplangi

Could you tell us about your association with Istanbul?

Mine: I was born in Istanbul in 1987. I grew up and went to a local primary school around Levent area. Half of my family is from Italy and Germany, and they were living in Levent for more than 60 years. I grew up hearing German, Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, English and Italian conversations in my family and also around our neighborhood.

Istanbul was beautiful, complex and yet loud and super chaotic for a child. But that makes you an incredibly alert and curious person. Of course the historical side of the city is magnificent; but also the tiny streets, our relations with our neighbors, local bazaars, street fights, secret pubs, my grandparent’s library were also my highlights when I was in high school. I went on to live in Dublin and then Bologna for a while. When I came back in 2011, Istanbul was already changing rapidly.

Nowadays, the city is trying to hold onto its uniqueness but it has lost its nature. Its soul feels tired and dark. One can think that we are the lucky ones who enjoy and embrace darkness and are using it to get stronger, but I wish I could live my 30s in a place where I can enjoy parks, forests, and nature in general. Yet somehow this tiring, loud complexity is creating an addiction that becomes a part of you or maybe this is my defence/coping mechanism with the new absurdities of the city.

Naz: I am from Istanbul as well. My grandparents are from Crete, Kardzhali, Aleppo, and Anatolia. Hence, it is a pretty mixed cultural background, as a result of dissolving of Ottoman Empire. Still, both my parents are from Istanbul as well. I was born and raised here, except living in Antalya for a few years and in Washington DC for about six months. Even now, because of my job, I travel to different countries a lot to visit art fairs, biennials, and artist studios.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? How does it inspire you/your work?

Mine: I have always had strong connections with Taksim/Beyoğlu district. After primary school, Taksim was our second home as music, theatre, movies, art, love, nightlife – everything was around Taksim. I had the privilege of experiencing Emek Cinema days when they invited my idol directors while having the best cinema festivals in the city. Seeing the difference in Istiklal Street nowadays makes me quite upset but also super strong. I still enjoy Taksim, and am still fascinated by its diversity but somehow I’ve lost the feeling that I belong there.

In fact, I don’t belong anywhere now. I think art makes us border-less, location-free. We can make home anywhere, but I have this thing with Taksim so I’ll keep on working for that until it’s completely gone or maybe even reborn!

Naz: Collective Çukurcuma takes its name from one of the neighborhoods of Istanbul: Çukurcuma. That is where we met and decided to form a collective to focus on collaborative thinking and creative process. Some of our main activities are our reading group meetings and cross-national collaboration projects. We raise questions about the power of books and libraries through our curatorial projects and editorial work. And all of these curatorial projects that we organize are mainly inspired by our city- Istanbul. Taking our roots from where we are based and where our collective is born on the micro-level, we always keep an eye on macro-level relationships that we form with international artists, curators, and researchers.

Although Istanbul has been going through some difficult times lately, I can say that it is unfortunately as dangerous as any other city around the world at the moment. We are going through difficult times together, all around the world. And the solidarity in Istanbul is really strong; there are many new collaborations and initiatives being born. It is a time to stay together; we need to revisit our thinking and working methodologies, focusing on what collaborative approaches could bring to our lives. And, that is basically why we formed Collective Çukurcuma. Founded in response to a need for building a platform generating progressive dialogues and discussions on contemporary art, we aim to rebuild the nearly-forgotten ‘neighbor’ experience among the new generation through forming collaborations locally and internationally.

Cansu Cakar from Neighbor Exhibition

What are some of your personal favorite places/districts in Istanbul, and why?

Mine: I live in Kurtuluş, work in Çukurcuma, and basically walk through Osmanbey, Taksim, Galatasaray, Cihangir, Tünel, Şişhane and Çukurcuma every single day. But the thing I love the most about the city is that even though you think you know your way through some specific areas, you can always find new shortcuts, small streets, hidden terraces, weird stairs along the way. Nowadays my favorite districts in Istanbul are Eminönü, Sirkeci, Çemberlitaş, Çukurcuma, Kurtuluş, Feriköy and Princes’ Islands.

Naz: I live on the Asian side, in Kadıköy. When it is spring time, I love to walk by the sea in Moda. When the sun is setting, you can sit by the sea with your loved ones, drink your beer, and watch the amazing city changing colors, from orange to dark gray. Istanbul is full of surprises; you just need to be open and let it surprise you.

What are your recommendations to find contemporary visual culture in the city?

Mine & Naz: If you are new in the city and keen to discover some artsy spots, you need comfortable shoes because you will have to walk a lot! For contemporary art galleries and museums, we have art maps that cover four different art districts; Beyoğlu (includes Cihangir, Çukurcuma, Galatasaray, Istiklal Caddesi, Tünel, Pera, Şişhane, Asmalımescit), Karaköy, Dolapdere, and Nişantaşı. But for offbeat art routes, we would say that these maps are enlarging every single day.

Kadıköy has become a main art district in the last few years, as many artist-run spaces, offbeat spaces, independent theatres and cinemas, artist studios, and art communities can be found here. Bomonti, a new gated-cultural hub, includes Alt Art Space and Leica photography gallery. Also Dolapdere is rapidly changing and becoming a bridge between Bomonti and Taksim by hosting new galleries like Dirimart and Gaia and one of the largest contemporary art museum project by Vehbi Koç Vakfı (which will open to the public in 2018).

Also alternative offbeat, artist-run and project spaces are trying the break these well-known art routes in Istanbul by stating their new spaces in different and new areas around the city. Like 5533 in İMÇ Saraçhane, BLOK art space Büyük Valide Han in Mahmutpaşa (located in the Old City), HAH artist collective’s space in Levent, and Pist interdisciplinary project space in Pangaltı. Also, Misir Apartmant on Istiklal Street hosts many art galleries (Zilberman Gallery, Pirtworks, and Gallery NEV), which are worth a visit for sure. SALT in Karaköy always provides a powerful exhibition program for curious audiences.

 

——
Kürşat Bayhan, photojournalist


What is your association with Istanbul?

I moved here for my university, and since 1999 l have been living in Istanbul. I come from a small Mediterranean city called Isparta. When I moved here initially, I was surprised and shocked by how big Istanbul is. But now it’s kind of an addiction. You miss Istanbul and you hate Istanbul.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? How does it inspire you/your work?

When I was in the university, I felt like a guest in a big city. However, after I started working and living here, I realized that I actually live here. It’s a different kind of city that inspires many people. Many novels and poems have been written about Istanbul. It also offers varied visual experiences for photographers and painters. For me, the most important thing is that different kinds of cultures exist in the city. As a documentary and contemporary photographer, I now feel that it’s a sort of burden that I am from Istanbul. I have to document the changes and people in the city. My first book Away from Home is the result of my curiosity about where I live and what is the origin of many other people living here. Are they, like me, away from home? So l tried to find out answers to these questions through my book.

I now have responsibilities towards my city. I have been working on a new project about the northern part of the city which is under a great risk of being demolished as there is a plan to build a high road through the forests. It’s a project I have been working on for five years now about the topographical changes in North Istanbul – deforestation and vanishing of rural life. I mostly travel to villages of Istanbul like Odayeri, Tayakadın, Zekeriyaköy, Demirciköy, Karaburun, etc. to try and document these changes.

Kürşat’s ongoing project

What are some of your personal favorite places/districts in Istanbul?

Unfortunately, I don’t really have any favorite places in the city anymore. l like to cross Bosphorus by ferry and visit the islands for my vacation.

And what are your recommendations to find contemporary visual culture in the city?

Arter Gallery, SALT, Istanbul Modern, Mixer Gallery, Pera Museum, The Empire Project and Nev Gallery.

Although Istanbul has been going through some difficult times lately, I can say that it is unfortunately as dangerous as any other city around the world at the moment. We are going through difficult times all together, all around the world. And the solidarity in Istanbul is really strong; there are many new collaborations and initiatives being born. – Naz Cuguoğlu

——
Olga Dolen, architectural visualization artist

Could you tell us about your association with Istanbul?

It might sound like a cliché, but for me, just like for many others, Istanbul is a city of contrasts. It is a city where modern buildings are located not far from stately old houses and where many people lived their whole lives in the same neighborhood and yet a large number of people moved here from somewhere else. In this unique place, there are people rushing off to work, yet others are relaxing and enjoying the luxury of residing in one of the most ancient cities in the world. Here you can experience four seasons in a day because of its whimsical and unpredictable climate which adds versatility to the megalopolis.

I decided to move here five years ago because I fell in love with a Turkish guy, who later proposed to me and we got married. Thanks to my open-minded personality, my decision to move here and embrace the new culture with all its components was easy.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? 

When I had just moved here, I was totally amazed by Istanbul, infatuated with the language, people and food. I wanted to go out every weekend to explore the city and couldn’t understand my friends’ indifference towards it. I remember one of my friends had told me that I was experiencing culture shock and that was my “honeymoon” stage which would phase out eventually. I didn’t take her words seriously at that time, but she was definitely right.

After about two years here, I noticed that I’m not so happy and excited about this place anymore. Almost everything started irritating me – heavy traffic, crowded places, etc. And only then I remembered my friend’s words and understood that even this stage, which lasted for two years, is temporary. Only a few months ago, I realized that I feel comfortable here once again.

I definitely don’t live in a bubble of dreams in this city as I used to when I just stepped on this land. I can easily see the drawbacks but I try a lot to bring the best out of it and focus on the positive sides of this magnificent city. After all, as Mark Aurelius said – “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Karakoy, photograph by Olga Dolen

What are some of your personal favorite places in Istanbul, and why?

Istanbul has a reputation of a very hectic lifestyle, but I always manage to find tranquility in relaxing places like the marinas (Fenerbahce marina, Tuzla marina) with the spectacular sight of the sparkling water and white yachts anchored there.

One of the liveliest and most joyful districts on the Asian side of Istanbul, which I like a lot, is Bağdat Avenue, which is pedestrian-friendly with sidewalks and one-way traffic. It’s considered to be the fourth best shopping street in the world where you can find reputable, high fashion brands, department stores, classy restaurants of local and international cuisine, modern cafés, pubs, etc. It’s a place where ‘créme de la créme’ of Istanbul’s society enjoys their free time.

Another very popular and charming place is Moda, Kadikoy district, surrounded with interesting, small cafés, restaurants and workshops, where the young and intrepid have channeled their talents into small businesses.

Bagdat Street’s photo by Olga Dolen

What are your recommendations for someone who wants to explore the contemporary visual culture in the city?

If you are interested in contemporary art, there are many galleries and museums to see in Istanbul. I would recommend that you start exploring from Karakoy, which recently has become a hub for the contemporary art scene. One of my favorite places there is SALT Galata. It’s an innovative institution and research center located in the historic Ottoman bank on Bankalar Street and has an exhibition space, a research library, an extensive bookstore, workshop spaces, a cafe and restaurant with a stunning view overlooking the roofs of the historical houses and Suleymaniye Mosque.

The reason I’m struck by the architectural beauty of SALT is that it impeccably combines the uniqueness of antique style with the modern pragmatic one. The penetration of lights through the colored glass panels creates the interesting radiant shadows on the columns which adds a feeling of weightlessness to this space. The library is built according to the recent technological advances to make it as convenient as possible for the readers to get engrossed in the world of literature and appreciate the history of the past reflected in the surroundings of the hall.

Within several steps from SALT, you can find ANNA LAUDEL contemporary gallery, located in a beautiful neoclassical building, hosting a dynamic exhibition program. It also has an Art Shop that offers democratically priced prints, photographs, ceramics, sculpture and art journals, aimed at supporting the new generation of art buyers and emerging collectors. Another gallery is ARTER, where local and foreign artists are exhibited through installations, video, painting, and sculpture. It’s located in the heart of Istiklal Avenue, Taksim with its floor to ceiling glass entrance where you’ll always see something that will entice you to enter.

Thus, any person who is dedicated to art can exchange ideas and stay in touch with the local and international art scene in these places full of creativity and endless inspiration.

SALT Galata, photograph by Olga Dolen

I now have responsibilities towards the city. I have started working on a new project about the North of the city which is under a great risk of being demolished as there is a plan to build a high road through the forests. It’s a project I have been work on for five years now. It’s about the topographical changes in North Istanbul – deforestation and vanishing of rural life. – Kürşat Bayhan

——
Yasemin Çakır, graphic designer


Tell us a little bit about your association with Istanbul.

Born in Istanbul, I have lived in this city nearly my whole life. My childhood was the period when urbanization was ever increasing. There were building sites in every neighborhood. I grew up playing inside many of those buildings. The biggest change during my childhood was the time when my family and I went to a city in the north east of Turkey for six months – Trabzon, a city with a long and moving history. It is very different from Istanbul and it’s surrounded by green mountains full of hazelnut and tea trees. Ever since, we have visited Trabzon every year for three months during the summer season.

How has your relationship with Istanbul evolved over the years? How does it inspire you/your work?

This experience of having two different lives makes me open to trying out new things, and I find Istanbul a mirror of this feeling. The city combines European and Oriental life. You have so many exhorters in here, like the crowded traffic or stores which have bad signboard designs. I start off work with a very complex view and think about many different things together, and then eliminate everything in the pipeline as I work.

The “confusing” surroundings of my city gives me a sandbox to play with, and it improved my skills during my education in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. In this city of contrast, you can never get bored as there is always something to keep you busy. There is always something that breaks the monotony. Just like the life here, my designs have a rhythm. So design can take people to the places they want to go to. To bring that out, I use a lot of typography in my designs and build the content through text.

Some of these typographic illustrations are inspired by Istanbul

What are some of your personal favorite places in Istanbul?

I love nature a lot, probably because of my summer time experiences as a kid. Istanbul also has a lot of green places. One of my favorites is Rumelihisarı which is located in the Sariyer district of Istanbul. I have breakfast there at a regular basis. Then there is Aşiyan museum which is close by. Aşiyan means ‘bird nest’ in Persian language and it is the house of the Turkish poet Tevfik Fikret (1867-1915) who designed the house himself. It also has very a beautiful garden with a fantastic view of Bosphorus.

What are your recommendations to find contemporary visual culture in the city?

Istanbul is filled with interesting places. You need to have an active lifestyle to experience those. The best way of exploring interesting and unique places is to just walk around, and you will always see places you didn’t notice before. For example, if you walk down from Istiklal Avenue (famous street with many shops), on the left you will see a place which is producing and exhibiting contemporary art – Arter. It has really interesting and unusual exhibitions. There is ‘Ways of Seeing’ exhibition on right now. Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, it is a very interesting exhibition that inspires multiple viewing.

Continuing down the Tophane district, you would see many interesting places and street art. Going to the end of this road you would find Tomtom street and the Italian consulate which has a street festival every year. And on the same street, there is also a store called Happily Ever Paper where you can find well-designed notebooks and many other interesting pieces. You just have to look carefully around you.

ARTER gallery, photographs by Yasemin Çakır

 

Rainbow Steps, photograph by Yasemin Çakır

I definitely don’t live in a bubble of dreams in this city as I used to when I just stepped on this land. I can easily see the drawbacks but I try a lot to bring the best out of it and focus on the positive sides of this magnificent city. After all, as Mark Aurelius said – “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” – Olga Dolen

 

You can read the rest of the issue four here

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