‘Hundreds of dogs were laying in the streets and enjoying the sun from Pera all the way to Şişli! It is not exactly an attractive sight. These mangy dogs who often exhibit wounds inflicted by their co-sufferers neither move for pedestrians nor for carriages or trams. People usually just step over them; coachmen try to drive around them, while officials are posted along the tram lines with a stick in their hands to shoo away the dogs, but often without success. When one group of dogs goes away, another instantly reappears!’ (The Istanbul Letters of Alka Nestoroff, p 32)
Writing to her mother in 1907 shortly after her move to Istanbul, Alka Nestoroff’s observations about the city’s street dogs could just as easily be attributed to today’s foreign visitors – many Westerners are surprised to see dogs freely roaming the streets, assuming they would be better off in homes or shelters.
Taşkafa: Stories from the Street, a 2013 documentary by the German artist Andrea Luka Zimmerman and narrated by the storyteller, essayist and critic John Berger, disabuses viewers of that notion. Taking the city’s street dogs and those who care for them as her subject, Zimmerman explores broader themes of power and the public, community and gentrification, and the ongoing resistance to a single way of seeing and being. The film also takes a stand againt the poor treatment of Istanbul’s non-human populations, who contribute greatly to the emotional and psychological health of the city.
Zimmerman, according to a Hackney Citizen article, believes that ‘public spaces must be shared with animals too’, even though developers and government officials may not see it this way. She initially became interested in the treatment of Istanbul’s street dogs because ‘“it’s a whisper of what we do to people”, a metaphor for the sterilisation of our streets and an example of our tense relationship with animals and nature’.
The film will be shown at Somerset House in London on Tuesday, March 8, as part of the Museum of Innocence exhibition. After the screening Zimmerman will take part in a Q&A with Colin Dayan, Robert Penn Warren, Professor in Humanities at Vanderbilt University and author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life, published in 2015 by Columbia University Press.
The screening starts at 7 pm. Tickets are £12.00 / £10.00 concessions and can be purchased here.