Istanbul’s street art scene ‘growing day by day’
Emilie Kleding Rasmussen – ISTANBULOnly a few hundred meters to the next art piece, says the cell phone map, while walking along İstiklal Avenue. Suddenly it is there; colorful words and images bursting through the building’s facade, making it hard to imagine the gray wall without it.
Throughout Istanbul, there are many more places like this. The Street Art Istanbul App, which guides users around the city to discover the art of the streets, suggests over 50 locations; often hidden away in the backstreets.
The street art scene in Istanbul is growing, and according to Sinan Sökmen, it will only continue to do so. He is the managing director of Istanbul Tour Studio and in collaboration with the app, he organizes tours throughout the city, showing tourists street art in neighborhoods such as Cihangir, Galata and Kadıköy-Moda.
“Most people come to Istanbul to see the cats, mosques, the bazars and hamams – and they are always surprised about how much street art there is hidden away in Istanbul,” he said, adding that when he first launched the tour, his competitors shook their heads. “Nobody thought tourists would be interested. Now it is one of our top five tours.”
The artist Tunç Dindaş – or perhaps better known as Turbo – feels the rising interest too. Also called the “Father of Turkish Graffiti,” he is known as the biggest graffiti artist in Istanbul. And having been part of the street art scene since 1985, he can clearly see a difference from then to today’s trend.
“In the beginning everything was hard; even finding spray cans. People didn’t have any idea about graffiti and associated it with illegal politics,” he said remembering the 1980s, when it was just him and a couple other artists in the city using bad, watery and cheap cans that offered only six colors.
“But this has changed a lot in recent years,” he said. “Today, everyone knows graffiti, posts it on Instagram and has started really liking it. Actually a lot of people ask me to do graffiti in their homes,” he said, adding that companies such as Coca Cola and Adidas are also asking for his decorations on their advertisements.
That he made it as a successful street artist, currently working on his next exhibition as well as a new book, is undoubtable – but he also underlines that many young and talented guys are arising and doing very good work on the walls. “So I see a colorful future,” he said optimistically: “Street artists will invade the city. It will grow bigger than bigger.”
Bigger than New York
On Istanbul Tour Studio’s website, it says that “Istanbul’s street art scene may not yet rank alongside that of Berlin, New York or Bristol, but it’s growing day by day.”
But American street art enthusiast and former Istanbulite Walter Meyer disagrees that street art is not as prominent in Istanbul as in places like New York, explaining that in New York, street art is much more concentrated in a few neighborhoods, like Bushwick and Brooklyn.
“But in Istanbul you can find street art virtually everywhere; from Beyoğlu to neighborhoods in Kadıköy like Yeldeğirmeni and Moda. Istanbul has become identified as a major site by street artists from around the world with nearly equal representation of local and international artists.”
Last year, Meyer organized a street artist exchange program between Los Angeles and Istanbul, where two American artists painted in the 2015 Mural Istanbul Festival, and artists from Istanbul painted murals in California. And in Walter Meyer’s opinion, Istanbul is increasingly attracting international street artists as well as being established as a “street art center.”
The legality of performing street art still remains an obstacle to artists in some parts of the city, but Sökmen said some municipalities in Istanbul had partially legalized it and encouraged artists to make the walls colorful and happy.
“This is important, because previously, it was something you would only do anonymously in the middle of the night – but now more people enjoy and encourage it,” he said.
He refers to the street art scene as being “alive” and “like air and water.” “It keeps evolving, and it is a never-ending journey. As long as the street art is alive, we will keep organizing tours around the city.”