It was a spontaneous decision to visit Istanbul. I was sitting in a Hong Kong cafe with local tattoo artist Ross Dixon Turpin (co owner of Star Crossed Tattoo), he had been putting me up in Hong Kong for the last few nights. We were talking about potential countries to do street art in. Very enthusiastically, he said I needed to pay Istanbul a visit. He had traveled there recently with his wife and told me that this city is pretty much free reign for getting up. A few days later I was sitting in an airport bar in Seoul, South Korea with an Australian couple that had just traveled to Istanbul. They told me how alive the people are there. They spoke of its deep culture and busy streets with great excitement. They seemed regretful to be going back home. Days after this I found myself watching live Turkish music in San Francisco’s Revolution Cafe. The music was loud, fast paced and full of life, the women in the band were of Turkish decent and beautiful. I knew after these three experiences, it was time to book a ticket.
I find it generally easier to put work up in the streets during the warmer seasons so I booked my ticket for May. I had virtually no contacts there with the exception of a gallery I emailed, Mixer Gallery. Luckily I was to later pay that gallery a visit and connect with some of the locals.
I spent time watching documentaries on Turkey, Istanbul, and Syria. I had never traveled to this part of the world and found myself very nervous. Istanbul has a reported 99% Muslim population. Its streets are filled with various left/right opposing political groups, mass amounts of Syrian refugees escaping the war, anti gentrification protests that lead to violent clashes with the police, emerging Kurdish insurgent groups, and a string of Al Qaeda attacks on Istanbul and neighboring Turkish cities in recent years. All of that coupled with the fact that I don’t speak Turkish gave me some minor anxiety.
I contacted a number of artists that traveled to Istanbul as well as Turkish people who migrated to the Bay Area. After being briefed on what to expect, where to go, what to see, etc., I was put at ease. Aside from doing street art, I was excited to walk Istanbul’s narrow streets, enter buildings dating back to the Roman era, visit the city’s numerous Mosques, view it’s Byzantine architecture and eat it’s delicious food. I was still a bit nervous but very excited.
I planted myself in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, located in the heart of Istanbul with easy access to all surrounding neighborhoods. Keeping up with the general theme of my work, I switched my color palette to an assortment of brick reds, browns and whites to fit in with the general colors of the city’s architecture.
Beyoglu is a neighborhood that is large in size and massively dense with people. It’s walls are covered street to street with extremely well executed graffiti pieces. Literally thousands of pieces can be seen on every roller door, ground level wall, alley way and accessible rooftop. Finding it difficult to find open space in that area; most of my works in Beyoglu can be found in abandoned lots, on top of demolished buildings, rooftops above local markets and residential areas slightly off the more busy streets.
Just over the Bosphorus Strait is Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Kadikoy offers a variety of well executed graff pieces, enormous sanctioned and unsanctioned street murals and a very large street art scene. Unsolicited pieces done by the artists in this neighborhood can be seen covering whole sides of buildings, roof tops, freeway entrances and public parks. The artists here are talented, courageous, ambitious, defiant, and very open to collaborating with travelling artists. Thankfully, through the help of Mixer Gallery I was able to connect with local artists: Canavar, Oneson, Ares Badsector and Gevsek. They took me around Kadikoy in search of walls. We spent the late evening/morning creating collaboration pieces all around that area. That evening made the trip for me, increasing my confidence in what I was doing there, as well as shedding light on the general dynamic of Istanbul street art and the artists involved in it.
In a city of nearly 15 million people that are up during all hours of the night, there is always someone around watching you. Even down the darkest and quietest alley at 5am, there are still people hanging out. This can make one very nervous when putting up work. What I learned in Kadikoy is just put your work up regardless, take your time to get it right and 99.9% of Istanbul people will not bother you at all. This gave me an increased comfort about the whole thing.
During my last days in Istanbul much of my focus was spent on pasting up work in Balat. Balat is a predominately Muslim area filled with a variety of new and old architecture, narrow uphill streets and a great public park along the Bosphorous. Many of it’s older, abandoned and nearly demolished buildings allowed for excellent placement for more elaborate pieces. The works I put up in this area can be seen on both building interiors, exteriors and remaining stand alone walls of some of the more demolished structures.
I believe that doing street art in foreign cities adds a unique perspective on the dynamics of that city’s culture. For me, a neighborhood has to be visited three times. One day to scout, one night to get work up and a third follow up visit to photograph and interact with the completed work. This allows for hours upon hours of exploring new alleyways, residential areas, visiting mosques, eating at local cafes and interacting with locals all while working. It’s a very rewarding experience. The perspective of getting work up allows for visits to areas that one may not travel too otherwise.
I’ve been back in San Francisco for just over a week, still recovering from my experiences in Istanbul. It’s always hard to reset after a trip like that. I’m curious to see what changes may occur in both myself and my work as a result of this trip. Travelling provides the ability for one to rethink their perspectives, potentials and see their own life and culture with new eyes. I’m excited to see what the following months bring as a result of this adventure.
I’d like to thank the following people for their hospitality and assistance: Nite Owl, Daryll Peirce, Evren Bingol, Utku Sahiner, Bengu Gun of Mixer Gallery, Seda Bingol, Sibelita, PEPE, Ares Badsector, Canavar, Gevsek, Oneson and Ayse Kapusuz. Thanks so much!
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All photos taken by D Young V