Rena Effendi: Last Dance Of Tarlabasi (2011)
Artist Statement :
"A dilapidated neighborhood in the city’s center, the main street of Tarlabasi runs parallel to Istiklal Prospect, Istanbul’s cosmopolitan artery. If, by walking down Istiklal, you can hear the city’s heartbeat, then Tarlabasi, only 3 minutes away, is its shadow twin, beating with its own irregular rhythm.
In spite of its run-down looks and reputation for widespread crime, Tarlabasi is a culturally vibrant neighborhood kaleidoscope - populated by Kurdish migrant workers from Anatolia, Roma gypsies, Greeks and African immigrants - from devout Muslims to trans-gender sex workers. But this diverse social fabric is being torn apart, since on June 12, 2011 the Beyoglu municipality began a series of forced evictions - following the government’s plan for city beautification. As a result of this recent urban development initiative, many of the current Tarlabasi residents are being “bought out” and ordered to leave, as their homes are demolished to accommodate the construction of upscale residences. Entire building blocks in Tarlabasi have already been sold off to private companies, transforming the streets into ghostly barracks, pending reconstruction. However, many of the neighborhood’s residents, their faces and lifestyles do not fit in with the new, “modern”, mandated look of Tarlabasi.
Last Dance of Tarlabasi is a visual tale of this neighborhood as it struggles to survive the ruthless pace of Istanbul’s urban change. The symbolic center of this story is a Roma Gypsy wedding - where Mukattes, a 17-year old bride who was born and raised in Tarlabasi, is devastated at the prospect of leaving her home and her family behind. “Wipe your tears and dance - the most beautiful girl of Tarlabasi! Soon you will not be here!” – her relatives chant as they pour onto a small alley of the Gypsy quarter in wild celebration. Mukattes’ infinite homesickness echoes in the hearts of most Tarlabasi residents, though some choose to resist government pressure and take legal action against the new measures. “I’m happy here, I have my beautiful roof-top terrace. The center is nearby. They are doing it for a greater good, but not for me!” – says Ali Ber, a 45-year-old Kurdish migrant from Mardin, who has a pending court case against the local municipality. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years; all my children grew up here. Why should I leave? If they want to make Tarlabasi better, why can’t I be part of it?” – he asks.”
Elijah Solomon Halfway to Somewhere
Every year thousands of men and women risk their lives trying to illegally enter “Fortress Europe”, where increasingly strict border policies keep pace with increasingly anti-immigration minded constituencies. Since 1993, over 16,000 people have died trying to emigrate. They come from Sudan, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Somalia, to name a few.
Some are refugees from war torn countries while others seek political asylum. Many have given up on economic wastelands in search of honest labor in foreign lands, and while on their uncertain journeys will find themselves stuck in rundown parts of Istanbul or Tel Aviv, scraping by on expired visas, waiting to catch a break or sock away enough currency to pay traffickers to sneak them into Europe.
In the ramshackle neighborhood of Kumkapi in Istanbul, refugees pay up to $2000 to be stuffed into the back of a van and driven to Edirne before hiking in the dark for three hours to the river Evros where inflatable rafts then ferry them across to Greece. Many drown attempting the crossing or suffer other unfortunate fates. Others choose to stick it out in Kumkapi and end up living years or decades in Istanbul illegally, with few options for re-settlement or legal labor.
In Tel Aviv, most refugees and ‘economic migrants’ end up in Shapira, where the neighborhood park is filled nightly with homeless Sudanese and Eritrean men. Right wing sentiment in Israel has recently turned more aggressive, with a molotov cocktail attack and stabbing in broad daylight terrorizing the African communities in Shapira, and public opinion has edged towards mass deportations.
HALFETI, TURKEY: Children play in a flooded mosque in the city of Halfeti, on the Euphrates river. The city was partially submerged by the Birecik Dam in 1999 and the majority of its inhabitants were relocated in a new city next to Halfeti. The Birecik Dam is part of the 22 dams of the GAP project (Guneydoglu Anadolu Projesi), a regional development plan launched at the beginning of the 80s by the Turkish government that aims to enhance social stability and economic growth in the Southeastern Anatolia, the poorest region in Turkey. (Photo by Tommaso Protti)
A protestor wearing a gas mask stands during a clash between Turkish riot police and protestors in Istanbul on September 10, 2013, following the death of a 22-year-old demonstrator in the southeastern city of Antakya.
[Credit : Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images]