Artist in Residency with Istanbul-Based Artist Initiative PASAJ


I was invited by PASAJ an Istanbul-based, artist initiative to participate in their artist-in-residence program, April 18-29th, in 2014. My place of residence, Tarlabaşı, had quite a reputation when I was researching online. Tarlabaşı is often seen as a hostile environment, a lawless haven for society’s undesirables, which included, Roma people, Kurdish refugees, Syrian refugees, African migrants, queer and transgender people all living together in 20,000 square meters, consisting of 9 blocks.

Tarlabaşı is an extreme example of what life is like living in an over-populated, urban environment, a city with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. During my short stay in Istanbul I found myself completely overwhelmed with culture shock and often retreated to my balcony to witness on the street below, the cinematic dance between neighbors, strangers, old and young in business and play. The dance began around 3pm and continued into the early morning hours. In my anonymity I took photographs, videos, and wrote poetry, trying my best to capture the spirit of the street I found myself longing to be part of their display but also fearful at the same time.

Tarlabaşı’s history is rich and complicated and is apparent in the diversity of the architecture, its people and the layout of the streets. In 2006 the local municipality declared Tarlabaşı a regeneration area or commonly referred to in the West as an urban renewal project. Just like most urban renewal initiatives the needs of the current inhabitants are not addressed. This program is so massive, large parts of the population were displaced, entire city blocks demolished, and blocks and blocks of security walls separate bulldozers, and cranes from passers-by. This urban renewal program is quite reminiscent to what you see in New York City’s gentrification, but in this case gentrification on steroids.

It seems like it is a time of a great change for Istanbul and with this change there is a strong public backlash against the Turkish government. Gentrification and development seems to take center stage. Most of the anger displayed by Turks (televised all over the world) in the form of protests and demonstrations in Taksim Square (2013) was directed towards this rampant development and gentrification, the lack of public space or rather the stealing of it in the name of urban renewal. I spent my days in Istanbul seeking out these places and exploring Tarlabaşı documenting through video, photographs and writings.

Tarlabaşı Neighborhood

The first people living in Tarlabaşı are noted to be in 1535 mainly non-Muslim diplomats. In 1870 there was a fire that consumed the neighborhood of wooden structures. After the fire, the dwellings were then made of stone.

With the turn of the century, Tarlabaşı became the neighbourhood of the non-Muslim lower-middle class: Greek, Armenian, and Jewish craftsmen, smaller merchants and employees serving the businessmen and diplomats. After the removal of the Greeks, and Armenians, then arrived the Anatolians, Kurdish migrants, Roma people, and most recently now Syrian Refugees.

In 2006 the Turkish Cabinet turned a 20,000-square-meter part of Tarlabaşı into an urban renewal area, the tender for the planned project was awarded to GAP Inşaat, a subsidiary of Çalık Holding.

Much of the renewal area neighbouring the centre now stands empty and dilapidated. Only a handful of families still hold out against pending eviction orders, their court cases are ongoing. Most of the abandoned buildings have been looted for wood, metal and plastic, leaving most of them without windows and doors.

Tarlabaşı 360

Tarlabaşı 360 urban renewal program is run by GAP İnşaat. The project features luxury residencies and sleek office buildings The project, which encompasses several hundred buildings within a sizeable section of the neighborhood, seeks to transform the low-income Tarlabaşı into a chic, trendy and inevitably pricy area. The Tarlabaşı 360 urban renewal program is one of Istanbul’s most massive development project to date.

This is a video to get an idea how difficult it is to travel in this developed area.


Balat district of Istanbul is a working class neighborhood where developers plan to pour millions and millions into the renewal of this neighborhood surrounded by Byzantine walls within walking distance to major touristic areas. With this development the values of the residential properties will rise sevenfold. Many investors seek to profit from fixing up residences in the dilapidated historic districts of central Istanbul as Turkey’s affluence increases.

Balat, is a UNESCO-protected district on Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway, was once one of the most prestigious areas of the city. A century and a half ago, it was home to a merchant community of Turks, Jews, Greeks and Armenians. By the 1990s, its crowded streets had been largely left to poor migrants from the east and Gypsies, also known as Roma. The government is auctioning off the right to renovate entire areas at a time and people are being forced out of their homes without adequate compensation.

Watch this video of children at a school in Balat celebrating Children’s Day.

Don Quixote

In the aftermath of the Gezi-protests, Istanbul’s newly formed solidarity groups including activists from Yeldeğirmeni (The Windmill) continue to work for lasting change, these activists squatted an empty building ‘Don Quixote’ in the district of Kadiköy. ‘Don Quixote’ became Istanbul’s first social center. While the building is aimed to provide basic support for neighborhood’s problems, activists list some of the activities as follows: children’s playroom, library, carpentry and art workshops.


Garipçe is a small fishing village that seems like time has stood still in the North of Istanbul where the Bosphorus meets the black sea is frequently in the news because of the construction of the third bridge over the Bosporus and the new highway.

The name of the village ‘garip’ (poor, miserable) comes from this isolated life the village had lived for a long time. Standing in the harbor of Garipçe you cannot see the construction whatsoever. The construction of the third bridge is quite controversial, a lot has been written about it so far; people who are in favor of it come up with their ideas, and the people who are against it try every possibility to get their vision into the media. Read this article in the New Yorker about Garipçe.

What is sure is this development will change the way life of the villagers of Garipçe I have to admit some one who is nostalgic for living by the sea it saddens me that the villagers will be yet another victim to development of Istanbul.

Watch the fishermen in action in Garipçe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s