From december 2019 until march 2020 I was Artist in residence at the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts (IKSV) as part of the Be Mobile-Create Together! Intercultural Dialogue programm. My project was a filmic research on pigeons and pigeonfanciers, and if and how these cross species relations connect people with their history.
My special interest was meeting displaced persons that had re-installed their pigeon practice as a way of attempting to maintain connections to times and places lost. I had expected to meet refugees and record stories of Syria and Kurdistan, but most guvercinli, pigeonkeepers, that I spoke with, were born and raised in Istanbul or had migrated from Anatolia to Istanbul during the second half of the 20th century.
I met displaced gecekondu residents (squatter houses, literally meaning built overnight) and a man who wondered which species of birds his Armenian ancestors kept. There were stories about displacement, but in a different way then I had imagined. The one Syrian pigeonkeeper I met, fed birds on his roof, but could not afford cages. Keeping birds is an expensive business; many houses in Istanbul are renovated and flat roof surfaces made place to angles. In order to have cages, most people rent a rooftop, a balcony in their neighbourhood and share it with friends.
White Sebap showbirds with longfeathered legs and roundeyed Ottomans are so expensive they are always kept inside. Flying is for the homing pigeons, the highfliers, the takla birds performing backflips in the air. Filming pigeons from balconies and rooftops, revealed unexpected views of a piece of Istanbul’s neighbourhoods: a derelicted buildingsite in Fikirtepe, wooden houses in Sultanbeyli, skyscrapers in Esenyurt. The subject of pigeonbreeding turned out to be so rich, it touched on many subjects: familystories, politics, urbanization. Someone told me about his grandfather who sang so beautifully the birds came to listen. For another man the pigeons symbolized the Alevites struggle for freedom. His daughter Tutku, named after her fathers passion for the birds: “Both male and female pigeons raise their babies, it’s my inspiration in a male orientated society”.
People consequently talked of caring for and loving the birds in terms of belonging together, unavoidable faith, a life long addiction.
“When you start to love birds, you start to love everything. Birds are connecting you with everything in the universe”, a man said emotionally.
During that recording a fish fell from the sky, it was still alive, a black goby, sputtering on the terrace tiles. The sea was nearby, a seagull must have dropped it. It could have been a scene from a Murakami book. Magical!
Photography by artist and Parya Pahlevani