ISTANBUL - Last week foreign and local artists put their brushes together to give a church wall and its neighborhood a facelift. Where graffiti once adorned the 27-meter stretch, now a collage of Kadıköy monuments remind passersby to slow down and enjoy all Kadiköy has to offer
The 27-meter stretch of graffiti-ridden wall near the Kadiköy center on Misbah Muhayyes street by the water utility building got a paint job unlike any it has ever had thanks to the collaboration of expatriate, foreign and local artists.
"The whole aspect of the wall has changed," said a Kadiköy businessman who walks by the wall to work every day. "It is really beautiful! They did a beautiful job on it and from now on no one will destroy it," said the man of the wall as the painters worked away, with the frequent distraction from comments and questions of curious and enthused onlookers.
The team of artists from the United States and Turkey picked up paint brushes and palettes in a self-motivated project to clean up the wall that belongs to one of the city’s few Turkish Protestant churches and leave something to inspire the community with images of the neighborhood’s daily life and fixtures.
The mural’s organizer, Emily Sommers, who has been living and doing art in Turkey for three years, invited her creative friends from Pennsylvania to join her in the project since they were planning to visit Turkey anyway, she said.
"Six artists came from the United States for this project," she said of her friends. "They are artists and creative people who are interested in seeing and experiencing Turkey but also wanted to give a gift back to the community because they are creative."
Sommers, a mural artist by training, has painted murals in five countries around the world, including Turkey. This marks her second Turkish mural, and she said the idea behind it was pretty simple: a long wall needed painting.
"There’s a big empty wall and I live in Kadiköy," said Sommers. "I’ve walked by this wall for the last three years and have always wanted to paint it, so this group, coming with its talents and gifts, asked the church if we could paint their wall."
Two Turkish congregations meet in the building and are part of the small yet growing community of Turkish Christians struggling for recognition from their peers, rights to worship freely and a place in their communities.
"We have had a lot of fun getting to know the church community," said Sommers. "They are very excited about this as well and a few of them have put in a few strokes here and there and are very excited to have something that is good for the whole community on the whole wall and be able to share part of that gift with the community."
By the end of the week over 20 people from the church community and neighborhood had pitched in to cover the wall with paint.
The undertaking of a mural
Sommers spent three days taking photos of Kadiköy and landmarks of the municipality on the Asian side before tackling the wall with her friends. With her collaborators they made a poster which they projected onto the wall after sunset on Tuesday evening tracing over the collage of images: The bull, the Sureyya Opera house, neighborhoods, the tram, people walking on the streets.
"We came up with the idea of painting images of Kadiköy because we love it, its history and all it has to offer, and we wanted to somehow display that as a gift to the community," said Sommers. "So we hope when people walk by they can appreciate it as a work of art and also feel good about what they see and bring a little joy to their day instead of seeing a big blank wall and some symbols that maybe they don’t understand."
The Protestant church wall is not the only one that has attracted the spray cans of graffiti artists and others wanting to leave their mark or message, but Sommers said she hoped somehow that these night artists would be discouraged from leaving senseless messages on the walls and perhaps instead be inspired to reach a little higher.
"We are aware that before there was a lot of graffiti on the wall, some of it negative, because this is a church building," said Sommers.
The mural artist said she and the team of painters hoped that by painting the wall not only would it discourage graffiti, but also encourage those who want to be involved in a creative collaborative project with them in the future.
"We would even offer an invitation especially to those who are graffitiying in different places and seem to want to make their mark on the city somehow," said Sommers. "It would be great if we could bring those people together and work on a project that we can all have our hands on and make something beautiful and constructive instead of destructive."
One of the participating muralists from the United States, Melissa Engle, 26, said she was encouraged by the constant flow of positive feedback they had received.
"I hope it can be a positive thing and bring transformation and inspire people to paint a mural somewhere else," said Engle.
By the third day of the project, the group of artists said the flow of passersby stopping for a look, or to ask a question or thank them was overwhelming.
"We get many people stopping by and watching and are very excited about what we are doing," said Sommers. "Many people are saying thank you for doing this and that when they walk by they’ll be able to see this and enjoy it."
Although some have expressed concern that the mural might be short-lived and surely spray-painted over once more, most seemed positive and excited about the project.
Working long hours in the heat has taken its toll on the artists who say they expected to have at least half the mural painted by the weekend.
"I’m starting to feel it but it’s all good," said Sommers. Sommers plans to complete the mural although she admitted it will be slow after her vacationing friends leave to see the rest of the country.