Wednesday, January 28, 2009

July 2008: Istanbul

This is the first of many posts on a city that I love. Straddling two continents and conflicting worldviews lies Istanbul, the cosmopolitan economic and cultural hub of Turkey. Turkey is a Muslim country but its secular government sets it apart from its Middle Eastern neighbors. French poet Alphonse de Lamartine once said, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Although Lamartine wrote in the mid 1800s, his assessment of this ancient metropolis still rings true. For tourists eager to tap into the Middle East, Istanbul is an excellent starting point.

Historically, Istanbul was Turkey’s capital. Its position on the Bosphorus made it a key stronghold of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Following the First World War, Turkish society changed dramatically. Under Mustafa Kemal (known colloquially as Atatürk), the former Ottoman Empire was rapidly westernized. 

Atatürk drove a sharp wedge between religion and the state by removing imams from politics and replacing them with Swiss civil and Italian penal codes. Turks relearned Turkish in the Roman alphabet, not Arabic. With the support of wealthy Turks, Atatürk fostered fierce nationalism and encouraged secularization. To this day, his picture still hangs in homes and shops and on walls throughout the city.

But there's more than just Atatürk's face hanging on the wall these days. Street art and graffiti are everywhere. Today's photos highlight my favorite large paintings. A melting pig's face oozes off the side of a building. A decapitated creature (the caption translates to 'scalpel') bleeds onto an unsuspecting napper. What appear to be large hippo teeth take a bite out of a nearby pipe. A creature with two megaphones for a head stands ready to make an announcement. A skeleton with a wonky eyeball gestures with his bony finger.

These pieces were not hidden on the streets. In fact, they were quite prominent in certain neighborhoods. I'll return to Istanbul for many a post to showcase the different stencils, stickers, and posters that make up the city's street culture.

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