Women Leading Artistic Graffiti Growth in Istanbul

28 September, 2018

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, is witnessing an explosion of graffiti art.

Many of those driving this wave of colorful artistic expression are women. Gamze Yalcin is one of them. She has been painting graffiti on Istanbul's walls for the past six years.

Yalcin, a trained artist, told VOA it is exciting to see continual growth of graffiti art across the city.

"More and more, the new generation are very into painting on the streets. But for me it is still very much at the beginning," she said.

Yalcin spoke to VOA as she worked to finish her latest art project on the wall of an abandoned building in Istanbul's Tophane district. She says a lot of the graffiti art deals with women and women's issues.

"I feel very lucky that as a female artist painting on the street wherever I go, that brings so much power and so much inspiration."

Yalcin believes this kind of artwork can help inspire women to do whatever they want to do in their own lives. She says the number of female artists in Turkey continues to grow. Some of them have sought her help to learn more about graffiti art.

Many of Yalcin's themes center on women and have a message of empowerment.
Many of Yalcin's themes center on women and have a message of empowerment.

In some countries, marking up buildings with graffiti is considered a serious crime.

Human rights groups and other countries have criticized Turkey's government for restricting forms of free expression. They accuse the government of taking steps to limit news reporting and stop political critics.

But Yalcin says that while there are more Turkish rules for street art today than in the past, graffiti artists are generally left alone.

"We are having more and more limits for our street life from what we used to have," she said.

She added that she has not had any trouble from police. Sometimes, she is told that graffiti art is not officially permitted. But she says police often then tell her, "thank you for creating art for our places."

Observers say the police treatment of graffiti creators can be partly explained by the fact that most do not include strong political themes in their art.

Yalcin says her works are usually made up of a collection of images and symbols that relate to a specific theme.

"People want to see colors, they want to see art. Whatever you do on the street is a gift for everyone," she said. "We have very limited parks, so green areas is always a subject I like to include with symbols of plants and greens."

On the streets of Istanbul, many people like Yalcin's art work. Many of them often stop to offer words of praise as she paints. Others take pictures of her work.

Ulas operates a restaurant in the city.

"Coloring the walls and shop fronts is beautiful, rather than seeing just shutters or bare, derelict walls. This is much more colorful. When you wake up in the morning, streets look much different. I think this is super."

Graffiti art is becoming an important part of Istanbul's culture. At a recent arts show, the most popular area had graffiti created by women artists.

Yalcin says she sees this popularity continuing because it provides beauty and happiness for people throughout the city.

"Whatever you do on the street is a gift for everyone. So [people] are really taking it as a gift, and they feel connected," she said.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Dorian Jones reported on this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

abandon v. to leave someone or something somewhere

theme n. a subject used in a work of art

inspire v. make someone feel that they want to do something and can do it

symbol n. sign or object used to represent something

derelictadj. piece of land or building not being used anymore and is in bad condition

bare adj. not covered