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 pigeon-raising 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, of Kurdistan, but most guvercinli, pigeonkeepers, that I spoke with, were born and raised in Istanbul or had come from Anatolia to Istanbul during the second half of the 20th century. The one Syrian pigeonkeeper I met fed birds on his roof, but could not afford cages.
I met displaced gececondu residents (squatter houses, literally meaning built overnight) and a man who investigates his Armenian roots and wonders which kind of birds his ancestors kept. These were stories about displacement, but in a different way then I had imagined.
The subject of pigeonkeeping turned out to be so rich, it touched on many subjects: nature, politics, urbanization.
Filming from balconies and rooftops, the pigeons provided small or wide views of Istanbul neighbourhoods: a derelicted buildingsite in Fikirtepe, wooden houses in Sultanbeyli, or skyscrapers in Esenyurt.
There were gorgeous birds like big-eyed Ottomans, Shebab showbirds with huge white feathers on their legs and Takla birds that performed backflippings in the air.
Someone told me about his grandfather who sang so beautifully the birds came to listen.
For one man the pigeons symbolized the struggle for freedom of the Alevites. Daughter Tutka, named after her fathers passion for the birds, said: “Both male and female pigeons raise their babies, it is 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 on the terrace tiles, it was alive, probably dropped by a seagull.
It was like a scene from Murakami’s book. Some visits were magical!