Rainbow over Taksim

You might have heard different things about the Taksim protests and the associated (youth) movements. In Germany, the standing man had gained some fame. Whatever news focussed on in your country (which according to the stats of my page roughly has a 70% chance of not being Germany); you will all have in mind the police violence, tear gas, and the tragic deaths of young Turks. However, whenever there’s civil unrest, a young generation of artists rises to process and thereby preserve the controversies of their time. For a while, I had wanted to grab my camera, walk through Kadiköy and document the local street art. Today, I write about a certain phenomenon that was initially started by someone who can neither be considered a youth – in fact, he’s a retired forestry engineer – nor did his original urban artwork mean what is now widely interpreted into it by both pedestrians and follow-ups. I’m talking about the rainbow stairs, which can lately be found all over Turkey.

Me on the famous stairs near Kabatash, European side.

Me on the famous stairs near Kabatash, European side. To some, they signify peace and tolerance. The rainbow is also widely used among LGBT-people* to promote equality or to identify each other. Others, again, see a mere tourist attraction.

The fact, that the work of art was perceived so very differently to what the original intention was, is actually a real life application for a debate going on in literature sciences called the “death of the author”. The idea: since every literary text is perceived subjectively by the reader, it doesn’t really matter who wrote it and what that person thought to show with his work. What counts is the effect it actually has on the individual. This of course applies to all forms of self-expression; the deeper meaning of any oil painting, song, sculpture or whatever they call it when someone gets naked, empties a bucket of paint over his head and jumps against a wall is not dependant on the creator, but on what you as the recipient makes out of it.

M&M-themed follow-up project in Kadiköy.

M&M-themed follow-up project in Kadiköy.

An example: Samuel Beckett’s drama “Waiting for Godot” is generally regarded as the key play for the absurdist theater, in which the protagonists struggle and fail to find a meaning to life. Important is not the plot, but the study of human behaviour. The two main characters of “Waiting for Godot” have no traits, are at no specific place, to no specific time, and wait for someone who’s no actual person anyways. Only very late there were new interpretations of the play, in which there in deed were very distinguished plots to find. In one way of reading, the protagonists are refugees, one French-Jewish, one foreign, escaping France during the Nazi occupation with the help of a smuggler who fails them. Either way, “Waiting for Godot” was a revolution for modern theatre and inspired a generation of fans of the fine arts.

Stairs in Izmir, including a peace sign, apparently connecting it to the pacifist movement.

Stairs in Izmir, including a peace sign, creating a connection to the pacifist movement.

What did the author want to say with this play? Not relevant! The significance lies in what you and I see ourselves. I saw that a desperate man escaping the holocaust and an absurd character who seems to have neither past nor future were easily confused by audiences for decades. It sparked the thought that the Nazi propaganda and the persecution of Jews resulted in a loss of identity and confusion among the Jewish community. On a bigger scale, maybe looking at the state of Israel, what did this mean for the world’s history? On a much smaller scale, can you personally relate to this?

Youth coloring a pedestrian bridge in central Izmir.

Youth coloring a pedestrian bridge in central Izmir.

Of course, in real life the author isn’t always “dead”. Knowing about the biographical and literary background of a writer can help reading between the lines. You might not find any sense in Kafka unless you know about his struggle with his father or the stiff autocratic system of his time. As a matter of fact, understanding the situation he was in at the moment he wrote his stories might help you to comprehend his art and thus reflect on your own life. Self-reflection is the whole point behind literature, turning psychically disturbed fools into thoughtful spirits observing the world open-eyed and open-minded.

The names of Ethem Sarisülük and Abdullah Cömert, two young men who died during the clashes.

Ethem Sarisülük and Abdullah Cömert, young men killed during protests.

You hopefully see what my excursion about literature has to do about the colorful stairs in Turkey. No matter the original intention; a generation of young street artists has found a way to express themselves. LGBT*, peace, protest, civil unrest, improvement of living conditions – whatever it is, they’re promoting liberal ideas without stepping on anyone’s feet. We can also see a small victory of the youth over their sworn enemy.

In the beginning, the forest engineer’s pied vision was painted over by the administration in a dull grey, the major color you will have in mind reading Orwell’s “1984”. But despite this attempt, today all over Turkish metropolitan areas the rainbow of Gezi shows its colors in pride and full of defiance!

These spheres coloured with a new pattern might indicate the development of Turkey's street artists.

These spheres coloured with a new pattern might indicate the development of Turkey’s street artists.

Want to see more? This Huffington Post article features a collection of nice pictures and some more background info. Or, if even the Huffington Post is beyond your intellectual capacities, see those pictures of a teeth brushing viking.

* LGBT = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual. I thougt the abbreviation was stupid at first, but it does turn out to be kind of useful.
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3 thoughts on “Rainbow over Taksim

  1. Dear friend
    Thanks for this amazing and informative article. I [just] loved the way you interrelated culture, art, life, and literature.
    The part about “the death of the author” was great and your comments were good and refreshing. I do believe that the message and the meaning is recreated in the mind of the viewer, reader and listener every time. Nonetheless the author is always valued to me as the one who ignites this process of give and take and exchange and creation and recreation of ideas between them and the addressees.
    As regarding your “excursion about literature … and … the colorful stairs in Turkey” , I cannot agree more. this is great to find novel and creative ways to express oneself and have one’s voice heard and interpreted. what makes it special to me is that it is critical and transformative, not violent, though.
    very well-done. Thanks for sharing.
    respect, smile and best wishes 🙂

    • Thanks a lot, Mina 🙂 The connection of different disciplines of art and social sciences is actually what I try to achieve! If I would remember “thanks” in Farsi, I’d write it now, alas…merci 😉

  2. Any time Lukas. [you can say “mamnoon” for thanks in Persian.]
    Yes I absolutely agree. In my opinion the interdisciplinary nature of science makes it more tangible and it makes more sense to me too when we consider them in connection with each other. like art for the sake of people …. people for the sake of art… 😉

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