Syrian artists gather at Istanbul studio to produce
İpek Yezdani – ISTANBULA group of Syrian artists, who have taken shelter in Turkey, have come together in a three-floor art center on the Asian side of Istanbul to produce together.
Syrian photographer Omar Beraktar founded the “Arthere İstanbul” in the Yeldeğirmeni neighborhood of Istanbul’s Kadıköy, a spot known for its increasing number of art galleries, mural artwork and ateliers.
Some of the work produced at the center, which hosts a painting and sculpture atelier, a café, study desks and a camera obscura, have already found their way to Europe, according to artists.
“The artists, who were obliged to leave Syria because of the civil war, first came to Istanbul in Turkey, because Istanbul is an art center with many galleries and it is one of the best cities for an artist to live in,” Beraktar told Hürriyet.
“I know that at the moment, there are hundreds of Syrian artists living in Istanbul. At one point, many of them left for Europe but an important part stayed here,’’ said the 52-year-old, who moved to Istanbul with his English teacher wife and their son in 2012.
Beraktar said they would never be allowed to open an art center like this in Syria.
“Our principal mission is to introduce the Syrian artists to Turkish people. Here, we do everything for the sake of art,” he said.
Like many others, Beraktar’s art center is also facing financial difficulties since their sole source of income remains as the artworks they sell.
One of the artists in the center is painter Farah Trablsie (32), who studied interior architecture at Damascus University and came to Istanbul three years ago.
“My father is also an interior architect. They cannot come and visit me anymore since Turkey stopped giving visas to Syrian citizens two years ago,” she said.
But she decided to stay.
“Today, I see that this was a very right decision. Istanbul is very suitable for artists with its varied and rich social life. Istanbul helped me hold on to life,” she said and added that she had already joined an exhibition in TÜYAP.
Another artist at the center, Burhan el Hatib, is a musician who also performs the whirling dervish (semazen) dance.
He also makes traditional Arabic Sufi music and plays the oud.
Since he came to Istanbul from Damascus two years ago, he has performed at an event hosted by the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and performed at an Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) event. El Hatib also works as a salesclerk in a shopping mall to make a living.
“As a Syrian musician it is almost impossible for me to earn enough money to live in Istanbul,” he said.
Hüseyin Haddad, a photographer and a graphic designer, came to Istanbul four years ago. He said he used to work at the United Nations, giving photography courses to Iraqi refugees in Syria and last year he opened a photography exhibit in the southeastern Turkish province of Gaziantep.
“I still mostly work with foreigners here. It is quite difficult for well-educated Syrians to find proper work and build themselves a life in Istanbul. At the same time, thanks to its open society, it is also very comfortable for us to live here,” said Haddad.
Painter Ali Omar, 32, is a graduate from Damascus University and came to Turkey in 2014.
“I am a painter, I did not want to fight in the war and therefore I fled,” said Omar.
“As a Syrian artist, it is quite difficult for me to sell my paintings in Turkey, but they meet their buyers in Europe. Recently, I attended some exhibitions in Geneva. Being able to sell my paintings in Europe helps me continue my life in Turkey,” said Omar.