Istanbul is a great city to check out street art and graffiti and quality murals can be found on both sides of the Bosphorus as Matt Fox-Tucker of Buenos Aires Street Art found out.
The neighbourhood of Kadiköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus is perhaps best known for its fish market and street side restaurants. It’s much more chilled and cheaper than the European side of Istanbul and much closer than you might think to the tourist sites of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar with good transport links on the metro and ferry. If you are staying on the European side of the Bosphorus in Sultanahmet, it’s easy to take the metro from Sirkeci and get off at at Ayrilik Çesmesi or Kadiköy station to check out the murals nearby along with plenty of sleeping cats that can be found all over the neighbourhood!
Mural Istanbul Festival has been inviting and sponsoring international street artists to paint murals in the city since 2012 with the likes of Aryz, Fintan Magee, Herakut, Inti and Pixel Pancho all leaving their mark on the Turkish capital. This mural (above) by Lonac from Croatia entitled ‘Intermission’ was painted in 2018.
Chilean street artist Inti visited Istanbul in 2013 and painted a mural entitled ‘Resistencia’ or ‘Resistence’ no doubt referring to the political situation in the country at the time. The artwork has faded a little as you might expect but still looks impressive.
Mural by Indonesian street artist WD called ‘Sunbathing’ depicts a girl surrounded by giant sunflowers and gazing up at the sky with some fantastic 3-D details. This one was painted at the end of 2019 so lucky to see it a few weeks after it was finished.
On the opposite side of the street is a mural by Brazilian street artist Arlin featuring a growling tiger that was painted during Mural Istanbul Festival in 2018.
Australian street artist Fintan Magee came to Istanbul in 2017 and painted a striking mural entitled ‘Pray for Rain’ depicting a group of young people holding buckets. The artworks relates to climate change and is a reference to the artist’s hometown of Brisbane when water restrictions were imposed following a severe drought in the city in 2008, hosepipes were banned and local residents were forced to shower using buckets. Turkey and the Middle East was also experiencing a drought at the same time.
Mural by Italian street artist Pixel Pancho entitled ‘Bambino’ meaning ‘Kid’ painted in 2012.
The mural entitled entitled ‘One against One’ painted by Argentine street artist Jaz in 2012 overlooks a car park. The Argentine street artist, now based in Spain, uses symmetry that is common in many of his works reflecting two Turkish horsemen fighting one another.
Polish street artists Sepe and Chazme painted this mural (above) in 2014 for the Common Experience.
A few metres away across the parking lot at 5 Talimhane Sk is a monochrome mural by M-City depicting a UFO lifting up police cars from the ground using a tractor beam.
Mural by Alex Maksiov painted in 2018 in Kadiköy featuring a seagull makes this square a great spot for street art with three large scale murals in the same location.
Another mural a few blocks away featuring nature and birds can be seen a couple of blocks away painted by The Writer Material crew in 2016.
The neighbourhood of Kadiköy is showing signs of gentrification in the last few years with more and more cafes, bars, guesthouses and small hotels opening up. A number of the local bars have also commissioned murals adding more colour to the streetscape.
Spanish painter of walls Aryz painted a mural featuring a labyrinth of tubes and pipes that relates to a series of painting he was creating in 2015 before also painting a wall in Málaga, Spain.
Across the Bosphorus is the neighbourhood of Karaköy. The area closest to the sea front is fast becoming gentrified with a number of new boutique hotels under construction but there are still enough abandoned buildings and quiet streets to offer inviting canvases for street artists to spray their colours on.
If you want to escape the din of the drilling and building work in Karaköy, a couple of blocks away is Hoca Tahsin street. It’s an oasis of bars, cafes and restaurants and a cool art installation of umbrellas makes the street once known as Semsiyeli Sokak one of the most colourful outdoor spaces in the city.
There are dozens of artworks painted on the shutters of local shops and cafes and along the alleyways and cobbled streets. Some of the murals have been commissioned by bar owners incorporating logos and hashtags. It’s a cool spot and definitely worth a visit.
Cartoon characters painted with spray by Turkish street artist Highero can be found all over Karaköy.
The Galata district in Karaköy is famous for its tower that is one of the most striking landmarks in Istanbul.
Around the cobbled streets and the steps on the climb up to Galata Tower, the souvenir shops, walls and alleyways have been sprayed with graffiti and stencils.
Argentine artist Maria Bedoian painted a mural in 2015 on the side of the DEPO building entitled ‘Grandchildren, Roots’ that features a Tower of Babel and the roots of a tree intertwined with staircases. Bedoian was invited to paint the mural by the contemporary art space and said it relates to: “a tower that nurtures cosmopolitanism, with all its richness and dislocations.” Also a great little cafe / restaurant next to the mural called ‘Falls in Galata’.
Istanbul also seems to have a big illegal graffiti scene and you might see a number of metro trains that have been bombed.
Being a huge city with a population of more than 15 million, Istanbul is too big to explore and photograph in a couple of days. If you have checked out any other cool murals and graffiti in other districts, please let us know. Also check out our guides about street art in different cities around the world here.
All photos © Buenos Aires Street Art