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.


Artist Residency with Spread Art in Detroit

New York City to Detroit
Thrilled to be invited by Thomas Bell and Christina de Roos of Spread Art to South West, Detroit, Michigan as part of their residency program. My time in February marks the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Detroit and myself, Spread Art and my organization DE-CONSTRUKT [projekts].

I was fortunate to meet so many wonderful artists and artist organizations. It was a bit overwhelming digesting the magnitude of art/public initiatives, the rich history of this massive city, the magnitude of problems that a bankrupt city must deal with, the snow and extreme cold, and the opportunity to visit the Motown Museum, all of which almost blew my mind.

Just to name a few of the folks I was fortunate to meet and hope to work with are Carl W. Goines, artist and executive director of 555 Gallery, artist J. Mavis Farr, Edible Hut, LeMarre and Dancers, Juan Martinez from Pedalista, and artist Vito Valdez.

During my time in Detroit I was invited to speak with several students at the Western International High School in Detroit. These students, all interested in the arts and design, were a joy to speak with and I was really amazed how articulate and proactive they were about working in the arts.

I also had the privilege to have a tour of the Detroit Institute of Art by artist and educator Vito Valdez who is a staff-teaching artist for the Art Studio in the Wayne and Joan Webber Education Wing. This Art Studio provides a unique opportunity for visitors to have hands-on-art-making experiences.

About Spread Art
Spread Art presents multidisciplinary art events in Detroit and beyond, with a focus on experimentation and innovation. Spread Art supports work that pushes creative boundaries, incorporates technology, invites public participation, and/or explores immediately relevant social themes.

Spread Art is affiliated with Detroit Contemporary, which houses 
a performance venue, art gallery, rehearsal facilities, Art studios and a huge outdoor garden with a stage, urban garden and fire pit. The residency is in Hubbard Farms in South West Detroit, it serves as a gathering space for creatives and community activists.

Now what is Ms. Arena doing in Detroit stay tuned………

Family Day Festival with World Wide Friends in Vogar Iceland

I was invited by Stefan Arinbjarnarson, Director of Culture for the Municipality of Vogar to work with a World Wide Friends (Veraldarvinir) a non-governmental, non-profit organization promoting nature and cultural orientated activities for people, interested in spending time in Iceland as volunteers. The volunteers included people from Japan, Catalonia, Austria, France, Russia and Italy

I spent two weeks with the volunteers to prepare for Fjölskyldudagur (Family Day) festival August 16 – 18th . The festival, spread over two days, includes a golf tournament, bonfire at the shore, musicians and sing-a longs, a fishing tournament, art exhibitions, barbecue, concerts, face painting and various competitions for both children and adults. The key purpose to have fun and bring the community together and share the spirit with all.

We created our own version of a community center hosted by Marta Guðrún Jóhannesdóttir at the Menningarverkefnið Hlaðan in Vogar. Free and open to the public over the course of the festival we offered international food prepared by the volunteers, a video presentation, games, live music and sing along, dance, an origami workshop and offered a chance for interaction between the volunteers and the community.

Public Interventions with Thomas Klipper and Co.

Public Interventions / "SRIAT"
As part of SRIAT (“Social Responsibility in Art Today”) I spent several evenings with fellow artists and workshop organizer, Thomas Klipper working experimentally in public space in Budapest, Hungary.

Exploring politically or culturally charged sites of Budapest, we targeted a number of public statues, such as Ronald Reagan, a bronze policeman, among others. These ‘guerrilla sculptures’ address social and political issues like the banning of dumpster-diving or censorship. The documentation of these interventions is currently displayed as part of an installation “At Wang’s” the Ex-Chinese restaurant, Bartók Béla út 2, in Budapest.

One of our interventions regarding censorship was featured in the daily news.

“Social Responsibility In Art Today” (SRIAT) in Budapest, Hungary

design by Bálint Rádoczy

I am one of 15 artists participating in a workshop in Budapest, Hungary on Oct. 24 – Nov. 5, 2012 with an exhibition Nov. 5th in a public space once a Chinese restaurant and home of László Almásy on Bartók Béla út.

The project SRIAT, organized by Igor Metropol Association in collaboration with Intermedia, the Art Theory and Curatorial Studies Departments and TransPraxis – International Center for Art and Theory, of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest, organized this workshop to address the intersections of art and social responsibility.

German artist Thomas Kilpper will direct this practice-oriented workshop questioning the complex roles of artists within current societies. The topics explored are “Freedom of Expression”, “Activism in Art”, “Socially Engaged Art” and it’s relevance within the art world. The group will research and develop different strategies of artistic involvement within these systems, starting with a field study in the public space of Budapest on October 23rd, National Holiday of commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

The workshop participants with the guidance of Thomas Kilpper and Hungarian artists Miklós Erhardt and Tehnica Schweiz (Gergely László/Péter Rákosi) will develop new and experimental art-practices, resulting in collaborative work shown in a public exhibition and host a public discussion at the Ludwig Museum on the 6th November.

The Shell: Artist’s and Scholar’s residency in the Westfjords, Iceland

I spent 8 days at The Shell an artist’s and scholar’s residency in the Strandir region of Iceland offered by The Icelandic Centre for Ethnology and Folklore. The Shell is a beautiful and newly renovated house in the village of Hólmavík.

I gave a talk at the local school about my work and spent most of time at The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft with Sigurður Atlason. The project is done in collaboration with the Hólmakaffi café and is supported by the Strandabyggð municipality.

One of Fifty Five – The Artists Summer Institute on Governors Island

Back to the Island I go, to Governors Island. I am a participant in 5-Day Professional Development Intensive for New York City Artists which is free and is for New York City artists working in all disciplines, offered through a partnership of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Creative Capital.

Held at Building 110: LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island, the Artists Summer Institute offers a unique opportunity for artists to step outside their daily routines and focus on their professional skills and artistic goals in bucolic, community setting. The Institute combines the best of LMCC’s Basic Finance for Artists program and Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program (PDP) to provide a more comprehensive range of training, tools and resources for working artists. The Institute is designed to help artists build a path to greater sustainability and self-sufficiency. Participants will receive arts-focused professional training in the areas of strategic planning, verbal communications, marketing and promotion, Internet optimization, financial management and business planning.

It is kind like a school for artists on how to be an artist or a more productive, smarter, artist or something like this. Or better yet I just get to meet a bunch of artists living in New York City.