Now through March, a new exhibition looks at the history of Istanbul’s street dogs in a religious, political and sociological light
To some, they're terrifying beasts, while to others they’re the best friend anyone could ask for. Whatever feelings you may have about street dogs, the undeniable fact is that the four-legged creatures with whom we share the city’s streets play an important role in our social life. “How?” you may ask. Well, the answer to that question can be found in Istanbul Research Institute’s latest exhibition, The Four-Legged Municipality: Street Dogs of Istanbul. The exhibition looks at the fate of dogs in the city by dividing history into two periods. From the Conquest of Istanbul until the Tanzimat Era, dogs served faithfully as the guardians of public property, but once modernization took off in the 19th century, so did the banishment of these animals begin. This mistreatment of street dogs reached its peak with the Hayırsızada Dog Massacre in 1910, which saw around 80,000 strays exiled to Sivriada, many of them dying on the boat ride over there. The exhibition recounts all of this history with photographs, travelogues, postcards, magazines and engravings. The dogs are obviously the focal point of the exhibition, but the works on display also provide glimpses into Istanbul’s history, with certain images – like those that depict the murder of dogs in gas chambers – proving to be both saddening and thought provoking for the viewer. The exhibition’s curator Ekrem Işın believes Street dogs have developed their own philosophy of life, just as we have. To him, dogs are multifunctional residents of the city who sometimes assume the role of guardian for their streets. The consultant for the show, Catherine Pinguet, lived and taught in Istanbul for many years, working in the fields of Turkish folk literature and Sufism. Pinguet invites those who believe too much attention is lavished upon street dogs to read John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? But if you ask us, this exhibition is an equally good place to start looking at the world from a perspective other than our own.