For more than 20 years now, Turbo Tunç Dindaş has been painting his name on the walls of Istanbul. Born in 1971, he’s like a big brother to the graffiti scene in Turkey. While trends have changed, new names came and gone, street art has become hype, Turbo still has the same passion for good old graffiti. In a previous post dedicated to stencils, Ali commented: “The truth is most of the things you see around Taksim are pretty lame. For good graffiti you should check some of Tunç Dindaş’ work.” Here we are: Mashallah News met with Turbo over a cup of coffee to discuss graffiti and urban culture in Istanbul.
How did you start with graffiti?
In 1984, I was doing some breakdance. At that time, record covers had graffiti graphics on them. That is where I saw it for the first time. In 1984, I watched also the movie Beat Street, and while watching the movie I understood how you can do graffiti. This is how I started, and then I continued after the breakdance trend ended in the late 80s. I’m the first graffiti artist in Turkey and the only one of my generation who still paints. Currently, I’m working as an advertisement director producing videos for big companies. In my free time, I sometimes prepare exhibitions and edit books.
Given the 1980 military coup in Turkey, was it not very dangerous doing graffiti back then?
Of course it was dangerous. In 1988 I was caught by the police. They sentenced me to one year and a half in prison. Finally, I ended up not going to jail but I had to pay a big fine. At that time, everything written on the walls was perceived as political. Indeed most of the slogans back then were written by militants. Even when I was doing a ‘Peace’ graffiti, the police asked me if I was a communist or a leftist. Then, after 1995 and the release of Cartel rap album, hip hop culture became more widespread and recognized in Istanbul.
Which type of graffiti was made at that time in Turkey?
The first painting was done in 1985. At that time, there was only spray cans in one colour: white, to paint fridges. For a very long time, there was no variety of colours, and the graffiti in Turkey were all in grey and blue. There was no purple, no nice green could be found. So, you could not do what you wanted, just basic stuff. Now the situation is fine, with sprays imported from abroad and new graffiti shops opening.
Do you share a message in your works?
When I get that question, I always answer that in Turkey, there are lots of people who want to spread a message. I don’t do that. I just write my name, Turbo, or my crew, S2K.
During the last 30 years, Istanbul has become a metropolis of some 15 million people. What’s the state of the urban culture in such a big city?
It’s really insufficient. Istanbul is a very big city but with relatively little graffiti. Here, the wages are low: people work all year long and cannot afford to go on a holiday, even in Turkey. Due to this constant worry for money, people do not value art. This might be the reason for why there’s not that much graffiti in Istanbul even though it’s an art form that’s not exclusive to the wealthy. But one thing is that sprays are expensive today. In the 80s, you could steal the paint from construction markets, but now the graffiti shops have special brands, and the owners are your friends, so you are not going to steal.
In South America, wall painting is a big popular culture. In the French suburbs, hip hop and graffiti developed among the most marginalised groups.
There’s no such culture here. In many ghettos abroad, a special fashion style has developed. Here, it’s not only graffiti that is not well-spread but also things like skateboarding, as well as rock and heavy metal. Therefore, alternative culture, not only rap and graffiti, is facing many difficulties. The scene doesn’t expand. In my opinion, the reason is that people in Turkey do not engage in the underground culture with passion but see it as fashion. They think: “I do some breakdancing, I find some girls, this is cool!” But, there is no soul.
Is it the 1980 coup and its repression that still has some consequences on cultural and intellectual life?
Well, in my opinion, there was not much foreign influence in Turkey until the 80s. It was a kind of hidden embargo. I collect vinyl records, and when you look at what was released back then, there was pop or rock, but for funk you could only find a very few records of James Brown. Funk music did not come here. Even today, there’s no Turkish funk music. Until the 80s, Turkish society was in many ways a closed one, and not much came from outside.
After Turgut Özal came to power in 1983, everything changed at once. It was as if mass consumption started in an instant. Indeed, when something new comes to Turkey, people consume it very fast and then it’s over. Trends are very short lived. To build a cultural scene, you need passion. It’s not like a hobby. I was born in 1971, I am 40 years old and I’m still doing graffiti. I have a job and money, but this is my soul.