Paint the town red, yellow, pink and blue - Monocolumn | Monocle


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11 September 2013

September is a spotless new pencil case of a month. And it’s almost back to school in Istanbul. The students who were the driving force behind the protests that erupted here in May are returning to the city for the start of a new academic year. There’s a sense that the youth is back in town.

And judging by the teams of police and fleets of armoured vehicles parked in Taksim Square of an evening, it’s clear the government anticipates the young scholars of this city may well resume where they left off.

There’s nothing like a few weeks on the Turkish Riviera to bolster the revolutionary spirit.

So far, dissent has come in the form of Huseyin Cetinel, a retired forestry engineer, who, at the end of August, decided to paint the steep grey steps that connect the Bosphorus road at Findikli with Istanbul’s bohemian quarter in Cihangir.

He and his son spent four nights transforming these steps with a rainbow of colours.

The aim, he said, was to cheer things up a bit and make people smile. But residents of the neighbourhood saw the riot of colour in their own way – as a sign of solidarity with the city’s trans-gender community, perhaps. As a statement of anti-government agitation.

And so did the local Beyoglu municipality, who immediately set about painting the steps back to their original grey.

A few days later, the city’s young, spirited crowd were out in force, re-painting the red, yellow, pink and green in defiance.

 Meanwhile, Turks and tourists posed for photographs on the steps – and others emerged along the steep incline in this area of Beyoglu.

The steps have taken on greater significance – and throughout Turkey others have done the same. One paper published a montage of copycat colourful paintjobs on steps, from the most liberal city of Izmir to the Kurds' capital of Diyarbakir.

And now the city is limbering up to host its 13th Biennial where international artists and philosophers will gather to discuss the notion of the public domain as a political forum. Its aim is to look at art’s effect on citizenship in this sphere. But as intellectuals come together to talk Jürgen Habermas, the academic famed for his discourse on public sphere, they may well find a fresh, new and whimsical example of the complex nature of public space, art, colour and city – right under their noses.

Sophie Grove is senior editor at Monocle


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