Cheyenne Toss*

9 May 2024

The topic of this blog post is the opening of the exhibition in Sultanbeyli, more precisely in the Ziya-ül Hak Caddesi, which took place on 21 April 2024 in the late afternoon. The exhibition will be on display until 28 April.

The idea and also the organisation of the event goes back to the VAHA programme ( and the joint initiative HUBBAN.

The VAHA programme is with and for the empowered voices of independent art and cultural spaces and aims to facilitate public discussions and dialogues within Turkey, but also in neighbouring countries and Europe. By bringing together hybrid spaces and contextual responses to the democratic crises in the regions, VAHA explores how local practices can be used to specifically support platforms of free expression and cultural programmes. The programme's website clearly states its aim as "bringing together initiatives that stimulate public debate through their cultural and artistic activities under difficult and repressive conditions". The programme is being implemented in two phases.

The first phase (Defining the Ground and Seeding) focuses on the activities and sustainability of all local hubs. In Phase II (Planting), the centres were encouraged to expand their work through transnational collaborations and a series of meetings supported their partnership and scaling-up process. This will be followed by a third phase (Harvesting), in which the hubs will be offered the opportunity to disseminate their results in new contexts and with new partners within and outside the VAHA network.

One of these hubs is HUBBAN, a joint initiative of two city-based organisations that aims to explore the dynamics of the ever-changing refugee communities in Turkey's major cities. Among other things, the centre seeks to map connections, overlaps and encounters between the different generations of refugees. Furthermore, HUBBAN emphasises the importance of recognising these communities as integral parts of the city and therefore aims to promote cultural exchange and partnerships to bridge different cultures that have migrated to the same environment. This will take the form of various cultural aspects, ranging from culinary practices to performance art, to contribute to integration.

The exhibition opening on Sunday was a good example of this. The event was well thought out. A shuttle was organised from Kadiköy for the musicians and event participants, and the event manager handed out a flyer to everyone, stating which concert was planned at which venue. Of course, the shops where the art and photography were exhibited were also listed. As already mentioned, the event was taking place in the Sultanbeyli province. I asked myself the question, why there? The explanation I was given was that the location had been categorised as a 'safe space' for refugee groups since 2012 through local government projects, community-owned associations and its location as a peripheral district. "Our intention was to create a cultural event that would not stand out from social mobility, unlike the general cultural events that take place in central Istanbul," said the organiser. The entire exhibition took place in Ziya-ül Hak Caddesi, and the shops and venues where the concerts took place were very diverse, as was the art. From photographs in a sweet shop to video illustrations in a TV shop and paintings in a clothes shop. The person in charge, Onur Atay, explained to me how the contact with the artists came about. According to him, the artworks were collected through an online appeal and also through 1-1 connections from the social network that has been set up by refugee organisations in recent months. The works were selected using a collective methodology involving both co-operative members and artists from different parts of the HUBBAN network. For example, some of the photographs are by Perin Mohammadi, an Iranian woman who studied and worked in medicine but then decided to follow her passion and move to Istanbul to pursue her art. She is currently studying photography at Marmara University of Fine Arts.



The music was as varied as the exhibition itself. It began with a concert in front of a sports fashion shop, where works of art were also on display. The special thing about this concert was the varied selection of songs in different languages and the simplicity of the accompaniment provided by an acoustic and an electric guitar. This was a good start, as the songs seemed more relaxed and seductive. This was successful, as many people took the time to stop and listen to the music. From then on, the opening went on like a tour. The first concert ended and Onur Atay and Ebubekir, a former refugee who now works at Multeci-der as a fixer, translator and coordinator and was sort of the local contact person, led the group and announced the shops where you could see the art. Incidentally, the owners of the shops voluntarily made their premises available for the exhibition. During the three very different concerts, the sweet sellers also handed out free baklava. It was inspiring to see how open-hearted the spectators and shop owners were. At this point, it should not be forgotten that the exhibiting artists and musicians did not receive a fee. The impact that the whole event had was reflected in the people who attended the opening. You could see the passion in the musicians' faces and it was infectious. Also the character of the concerts was well adapted to the mood. It should also be noted that the people involved were predominantly male, the shopkeepers as well as most of the spectators.


The second concert featured two men, one of whom played kemence and the other drums. Some audience members took part in the whole tour, others came and went, it varied. However, it was particularly nice to see that the event attracted different generations. From very young children to senior citizens. They enjoyed the music, filmed and took photos. One young person also asked me questions about the languages that were sung. These were Arabic, Persian, English and some Turkish, by the way. After all the shops in which works of art were exhibited had been visited. A final concert crowned the opening, which was very emotional, with saxophone playing and soulful singing.

All in all, you can definitely say that the event was well received by the people, which was particularly evident from the dancing children and the beaming faces. I also wanted to know Onur Atay's summary of the opening. In his opinion, it became clear that the "space" can play a role in integrating people, which was considered in the planning phase. His only criticism was that he would have liked a larger organising group for future events of this kind. In conclusion, I would also describe the exhibition opening as a success, because you could feel the positive energy generated by the exchange of art. It was like a street festival.



*Cheyenne Toss is a student at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Mainz, Germany, specializing in Social Sciences: Migration and Integration. Currently, as an Erasmus student at the Department of International Relations, Özyeğin University, Istanbul, and interning at GAR as part of her Erasmus program, her main motivation is to acquire new knowledge, diverse working methods, and, above all, a different perspective on the complex topic of migration.


**The ideas and opinions expressed in GAR Blog publications are those of the authors; they do not reflect those of the Association for Migration Research.

***The images are photographs taken by the author at the exhibition.