Yapi Sanat placing their protest-statue in front of the art-Biennale at Istanbul Modern (photo: Georg Milz)

Istanbul’s Creative Centers of Resistance

Protest and art are a big part of daily life in Istanbul. After the Gezi protests there's a lot of creative energy on the streets. Norient Blogger Georg Milz went to meet up with several artists and musicians and gives you an update on the countries vibrant protest culture.

Penguins became a symbol of how local media missed out to cover the protests

It's not so much Gezi or Taksim anymore - central spots of protest have found new locations, often in left-wing orientated districts like Kadıköy or Okmeydanı. Just a walk through a green park in Beşiktaş up the 'rainbow' steps and you'll reach a house that used to be a kindergarten. The kids had to leave since the building will be soon turned into a hotel. Ironically the process of gentrification gives a young protest-avantgarde called Yapi Sanat space to be creative. The collective of 5 austrian-turkish artists came from Vienna to Istanbul to occupy the house and open an art gallery. There they are sharing ideas with the creative drive of people passing by to bring sophisticated art onto the streets of Istanbul.

«Rainbow» steps in Abbasağa Park

The collective Yapi Sanat understands itself as an answer to the decision of the 13. Biennale in Istanbul not to use the public space for their exhibitions after the protest broke out. Yapi Sanat showed up at the opening of the Biennale with ipads and banners to let visitors know about their vision of the integration of art into the daily life of urban Istanbul.

Two big malls in Istanbul at Yapi Sanat gallery in Beşiktaş

I was lucky to catch up with the crew at the opening party of their gallery. There they teamed up with artists of the young label Tektosag. Underground parties in a squat house with a self made dub sound-system are not a usual setting for a party in Istanbul. Thats also a reason why they were able to pull together such a strong line up of artists: Ethnique Punch, Retro Gramafonia, cutting edge producer Levni, the pioneering artist fusing turkish electro with a political message Serhat Köksal of Gözel Radio, Sotu the Traveller as well as the 12m3 sound-soundsystem & Sine & Noise of Tektosag.

Ethnique Punch with Neşet Ertaş T-Shirt & Retro Gramafonia
Retro Gramafonia

Music varied from Turkish hiphop to bass music. Some tunes with an little arabesk flavour, heavily danceable with a dubstep attitude. After baile funk from the favelas in Rio or kuduro from Angola the next big club music export could be easily coming from the East of Europe setting a focus on updated club beats from the Middle East. Also one of the big rap stars in Turkey, Ege Çubukçu showed up briefly, didn't want to miss that happening. The crowd wouldn't let him go without giving them a taste of his freestyle skills.

The opening party was also the first performance of the musician and media artist Serhat Köksal in a long time. At Gezi protests in june, he broke himself both arms when he was fleeing in clouds of teargas of the police's fatal attacks. Still recovering from surgery which left him with plenty titanium pins in his limbs. With his many projects, nicknames and slogans: «Gegen die Bridge», «NO Touristik NO Egzotik» or «2/5 BZ» he is an ambassador of protest-art, speaking his mind since many years against the government as well as against exotic views in of the foreign media.

Being one of the biggest critic of exotism and orientalism he is also quite sceptical about the approach of the label doublemoon. To him the labels releases maintain a stereotyped picture of contemporary turkish culture. Also the club Babylon, which has an excellent reputation for having the most diverse program in Instanbul was getting criticised. During Gezi some people were calling for a boycott of the club after pozitif, the company behind the club was bought by the boss of NTV, who is an intimate friend of Prime Minister Erdoğan. Hosts and party people were not sure if they can still enjoy partying in a place belonging to a good friend of Erdoğan. DJ Mr. Strangé djed at the reopening of the club with his sound-system LUST after the summer break. He says, partying should be about a positive vibe and respect instead of dividing people into political views. Thats why big clubs like Babylon decided to close their doors during the protest, only letting people in to recover from teargas attacks. When the protest calmed down it took a while that things went back to normal. Some party hosts got negative feedback on facebook or twitter when they immediately started to advertise their club nights again via social media. Also Mr. Strangé took his time to get back into a party mood. His monthly playlist in May was dominated by songs related to thoughts of protests featuring the likes of Gil-Scott Herson, Tracy Chapman or «Fuck the police» by N.W.A.

Some party folks at the gallery haven't decided yet, weather they want to party at Babylon again, or if the place «literally turned into Babylon». The guys of Tektosag are distancing themselves from any political approach. Their label shall be a platform for sharing good music from a young generation of beatmakers. Only some of the producers featured on the label plus other artists from Turkey and abroad are speaking their mind participating in a platform called direnmusik.com. Diren means to protest and direnmusik.com is a main address for electronic protest-songs online. There you'll find all kinds of music from hiphop to electro beats using sounds like police sirens or the streaming noise of a teargas canister:

One of the gems of a new wave of instrumental hiphop beats is Da Poet. In Turkey still most people know him for being a rapper. This is also the case since the release of his debut BeatTape collided with the protests. During Gezi no one was interested to reach out for new stuff coming from the underground. Even though beats like 'On the other side' created a lot of buzz for him. This song is his own take on the viral trap anthem Harlem Shake.

Cru, Georg, Da Poet

Right around the corner of the Yapi Sanat gallery you'll find Abbasağa Park, another center of the protest movement. Already from a distance you can see the stairs shining brightly colored like a rainbow. After it became difficult to protest in Gezi through the huge presence of police, many of the creative ideas from Gezi found new space here. A small capulcu-café provides protesters with free chai, water and coffee. A public library was set up by residents bringing books together in the park. Every evening a social forum takes place to come together, discuss and enjoy live music.

Abbasağa Park social forum
Painter at Abbasağa park painted the brand of his overall before taking a photo

One of the most important protest-bands in Istanbul is Grup Yorum. They are active since 1985. If the police gets into a fight with protesters on the streets, people living closely open their window and pump up loud Grup Yorum songs. Until today they can easily fill a soccer stadium enjoying huge popularity. One of their new songs is directed towards the prime minister of Turkey. The hook consists of a sung melody giving space for fans to give their frustration a free run. Almost every month you can read about the group in the news. When I called them to confirm our meeting, I heard sounds of explosions in the background. A voice kept telling me: «No, no don't come here, it's too dangerous».

The group is based in Okmeydanı, a quarter where the 14 year old Berkin Elvan fell into a coma after he was hit by a teargas canister. The day after the violent protests on the 9th of september, I meet Cihan Keskek, Saz-player and singer of the group. He tells me about the heavy attacks the day before, that the police entered the area with armoured personnel carrieres even taking aim at the Idil culture center, where the group is based and has a studio. When people heard about that on the radio, they came to support the group, he says. While Keskek tells me about their struggle for socialism in Turkey, the street cleaning raises rests of teargas from the ground forcing us to go inside the studio, to continue talking.

Grup Yorum singer & saz-player Cihan Keskek at İdil Kültür Merkezi with a Berkin Elvan mask next to him

Another group that is fairly known for their protest music is Kardeş Türküler. After Erdoğan criticised the usage of pots and pans, showing solidarity with the Gezi movement, as monotonous noise, the political folk group with multi-ethnical background, dedicated a song to him. «Sound of pots and pans» is only played on equipment from the kitchen. The spontanous song of the moment became an anthem and even had its premier in a theater in Şişli.

Published on September 29, 2013

Last updated on June 12, 2019


Georg Milz ist Ethnologe und als Freier Autor für Zündfunk und Funkhaus Europa tätig. Durch die Arbeit als A&R bei Outhere Records und Mitglied von Dala Dala Soundz aus München ist er Fachmann für Global Pop. Milz hat die Compilations «Ayobaness – South African House» und «Black Stars – Ghana’s Hiplife Generation» herausgebracht und Tourneen mit afrikanischen Künstlern organisiert. Demnächst erscheint seine Compilation zu urbaner Musik aus Kenya. Als Student der Ethnologie hat er über die Entstehung von Coupé Decalé zwischen Paris und der Elfenbeinküste geforscht.
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