April 02, 2020

Streetwise Istanbul: Seeing ‘Other’ as Self

While sheltering at home, take a few moments to click through the online version of Streetwise Istanbul: Seeing 'Other' As Self. This exhibition, hosted by Saranac Art Projects in Spokane, has been forced to close due to the coronavirus.

The show features images and conversations with street vendors, metro musicians, artisans and shop owners who make their living in neighborhoods bridging Europe and Asia. In many respects, their daily experiences mirror our own.

I'm a Spokane author who collaborated on this vibrant collection with Aramis Kalay, an Istanbul photographer. Kalay, whose work has been shown in Turkey and Europe, traveled to Spokane for the opening, his initial solo exhibition in the United States.

I first traveled to Turkey in 1985 and returned numerous times before conceiving this project. I studied at the University of Ankara’s Tomer Language School in Istanbul, hoping to talk with Istanbulites of all walks of life whom I met in the city.

I was curious to hear people’s stories and to ask them what wisdom they could share, but my Turkish never progressed much beyond, “Iki simit, lutfen,” “Two simits, please.” (Simit is a traditional Turkish pretzel-like snack.)

In 2012 while trekking the Lycian Way on the Turkish coast I met Tuana Çeik, a high school student bi-lingual in Turkish and English. Çeik agreed to translate for Streetwise Istanbul. When Çeik left for college in Bristol, UK, her younger sister Alara stepped in. Alara, now a student at the University of British Columbia, attended the opening reception at the Saranac.

The Streetwise team interviewed people in Istanbul over three years’ time, exploring a variety of districts in the city of 17 million people. My plan is to bring this exhibition to other cities across the US.

Meghan Nuttall Sayres is author of two novels set in Iran: Anahita’s Woven Riddle and Night Letter. She is the editor of the anthology Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran. Contact her at travelmeghansayres@gmail.com.

Follow Aramis Kalay on Instagram @sebebimistanbul.aramis.kalay or email him at aramiskalay@yahoo.com. For more images and video check out Streetwise Istanbul on Facebook and Instagram.

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Aramis Kalay photo
Ahmet Aydın (featured online) likes that he is carrying on an Istanbul and a family tradition by driving the cable car in Beyoğlu, a neighborhood on the European side of the city. Initially, the cable car was pulled by horses.

When WW1 started, the horses were conscripted for the war. “During that time they constructed the electric lines and never turned back.”

“When my father drove the cable car there were only 600,000 people in Istanbul. Now there are one million people on this street every day.”

“The difficult part of my job is keeping from running over people who get in the way. This car is old, and the brakes aren’t good.”

Ahmet usually works six days a week, mornings or evenings.

“My favorite days are rainy ones when there are fewer people.”

Ahmet Aydın’s work requires multi-tasking: keeping the car on track, rotating the bell crank and/or applying the brakes, when necessary, and minding the safety of passengers who are standing in the aisles.

While climbing on and off to manage boarding and disembarking passengers, and collecting fares, he sprained an ankle.

While Ahmet spends most of his time at work in Taksim on the European side of the city, he prefers the Asian side, such as the neighborhood where he grew up called Beylerbeyi. He also likes Anadolu Hisarı and Üsküdar. He enjoys going to Kanlıca for yogurt.

His advice for life?

“Not to worry about things. Take it easy. Eat what you want to eat.”

(To view Ahmet driving the cable car, visit Streetwise Istanbul on social media).