“Citizens” focuses on people born and raised in Istanbul and who are masters of their domains. In this section, described as unsung heroes of Istanbul, we talk about citizens’ Istanbul, profession, yesterday and today.
The early years of the painter and sculptor Mevlut Akyıldız spent in İstanbul has a big part in his humorous style of painting which portrays the contradictory life style of modernity. We first take the tramway and then metrobus together as we talk.
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Işık Kaya

I already begin to travel in time as I walk on the Kurtuluş streets heading to Mevlut Akyıldız’s house. It has been a while since I visited that part of the city. There is marvelous smell of historical bakeries on the streets and a warmness between the shopkeepers and clients; this is the atmosphere of the old İstanbul… I go in one of those İstanbul apartments as it begins to drizzle. His wife Aşkım Akyıldız meets me at the door. It is a very warm welcome. They have just bought fresh puff pastry to serve.

I ask him about his first memories in İstanbul.

NIGHT CLUBS AND CLASSICAL MUSIC

“We moved to İstanbul from Ankara when I was 12. We lived in Fatih for six years and came to Kurtuluş in 1973, the year I got into the Academy. I had friends from all walks of life in our neighborhood. I had a Jewish friend called Moshe, an Armenian friend, Erol and a Muslim friend called Vasil. The father of one of my friends, Yavuz from Sivas, owned bordellos in the city. Burning with the energy of youth, we would go to Tünel, the back streets of Beyoğlu where night clubs were. We would go to a friend in Gültepe, drink with the minibus drivers, listen to arabesque and chat. Academy was different of course, we listened to classical music there. So, I was in the midst of a fuse of different cultures that year. Now I can see how I was impressed by all those people I had met in those years. It was inspiring to see how those hopeless people from such walks of life had an aspiration to hold on to life, they had a circle of relationships of their own. In later years, I identified their motivation to hold on to life with my own aspiration in life.”

I look at the numerous paintings, sculptures and glass-bottom paintings around me. I am sitting in an enchanting room. All those scenes he witnessed in his early years and how he identified himself with them speak to me enthusiastically through all these works of art, yet I still want to listen it from him.

COLORFUL, VIVID MEMORIES

“I decided to paint after graduating from the Academy. I did not take part in any educational institution, I only worked and strived to be a professional artist. And I did try to hold on to life too, during that period started in 80s in Turkey. I tried to bring things that I could enjoy into my life. The lives of those people I had met when I was young, which somehow seemed absurd, have helped me to gain a totally different perspective in life. And I did not just observe these people from a different stance then; I became good friends with them, I had a humane communication with each of them. I think I kept those memories alive by painting these people I had met.”

I ask him to share some memories and tell how he related to a call girl for example.

CALL GIRL NURDAN

“There a was a luxurious brothel called Gülizar in Kireçburnu, which we would visit in the afternoons. They would serve bulgur pilaf and we would eat it. Everything was just so natural. The women who worked there were never the subject of our conversation, we would talk about ordinary stuff. The call girl Nurdan was our neighbor. She lived with her mother. We would go to their house where they would do coffee reading. They would reveal their life tragedies as we talked.

Moshe had bought a car to womanize. Yavuz was already quite free because of his father. Moshe took me to a by-street around the train station in Sirkeci once. They were doing two hour-gatherings of entertainment to cheer up the soldiers in daytime. We paid 15 TL and went in. They were shouting “open, open”. We just found ourselves to be a part of it.”

MILITARY SERVICE

“I was sent to Aydın as a reserve officer. I saw camels coming when we went up to hills one morning to exercise. I then learnt that they had camel wrestling there. So, I went after it and illustrated them in my paintings. I was in the midst of life then. I immediately went after what attracted me, just like a bee that makes honey, portrayed what I saw and tried to learn them better in every way.”

YESTERDAY & TODAY

“I now paint everything I experience naturally, yet from a higher perspective. The night life in İstanbul, the neon lights in Beyoğlu, the butcher that sold sweetbread at the corner of the Galatasaray Lycée… We once met someone there, the society man Kemal. We first made fun of him but later learnt that he was Gönül Yazar’s mother’s lover, one of these old rakes. You go into that period when you begin to question life, after a certain age. I feel anxious to go out at night now. We used to have softer relationships in the past. Everything builds on earning money today. People were more honest in the past; they would behave in more humane manners.”

I learn that Mevlut Akyıldız spends most of his time in his house and around his neighborhood as we conclude our conversation. Living in Kurtuluş feels like being a world citizen. It is walking on the Kurtuluş streets, chatting with Patriarch in Patriarchate in Balat, communicating with the people in the Jewish Museum…

 

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