Retired forestry engineer Huseyin Cetinel decided to brighten up a few Istanbul neighborhoods, slapping $800 bucks’ worth of rainbow-colored paint on public walkways over the course of four days.
His guerrilla artworks (which were probably inspired by the guerrilla painters in Beirut last year) were an instant hit with the local community. Images of the vibrant stairs have gone around the Twittersphere, and were soon picked up by national television and international newspapers.
Then the government came in and painted everything gray.
Cetinel started with a massive Findikli staircase in the central district of Beyoglu (see the artist seated on those steps, above).
Tourists quickly descended on the site for colorful photo ops. A pair of newlyweds used the artwork as backdrop to their wedding photos. New bride Gamze Ozmermer told the New York Times, “The air of conflict that our world is caught in, all those human losses…misery needs healing. Colorful scenes might be a remedy.”
The LGBT community also applauded the caper, recognizing their trademark rainbow flag in the work, but the 64-year-old artist sidestepped politics, telling Everywhere Taksim, “I didn’t do it for a group or as a form of activism. I did it to make people smile.”
He completed his painting on August 27, and two days later, without warning, the Beyoglu municipality sent in crews to cover the colors with a coat of dull gray.
When local television reporters sought Cetinel for his reaction, he pointed out that all of nature is brightly colored. “Where does this gray come from?” he asked. “Did we have another Pompeii and get flooded with ash?”
Heavy commentary on social media – having just discovered the painting – quickly turned angry. Using Twitter to mobilize, residents came out in large numbers to restore the steps. Additional stairs and walkways were painted in nearby neighborhoods. Finally, the municipality also joined the effort.
Istanbul is called “the city of seven hills” with dozens of public stairways threading through ancient neighborhoods for pedestrians seeking to avoid heavy car traffic. It’s understandable that the effort to enliven the footpaths would be popular.
Stairs painted in Beirut last summer:
To the young, liberal and educated Turks who supported the Taksim demonstrations, the rainbow stairs incident seemed yet another sign of intolerance and a usurpation of their right to public space. It was wise for the municipality to rectify their actions, offsetting a new wave of anti-government protests.
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