Since the mid-1990s, Turkish contemporary artist Halil Altindere has been producing videos, sculptures, installations, photographs, performances, exhibitions, and publications through which he challenges the power and policies of the Turkish government and the repressive beliefs shaping the country’s society. “Governments always want the representation in art to move in the direction of the national state ideology,” he says, a desire he refuses to satisfy in his work. Among his projects is Wonderland, a rap video/documentary stemming from his concerns about the government-led urban renewal plan currently changing the face of Istanbul.
Wonderland begins with the piercing wail of sirens and flashing lights of a police car. Beyond the car, a young man races away on foot from the policemen who drive after him in pursuit, while the camera follows this chase through streets filled with rubble, past the empty shells of buildings slated for demolition, and walls covered with graffiti. This is the historic neighborhood of Sulukule, home to Istanbul’s Romani population since the Byzantine Empire. Since 2006, it has been succumbing to the wrecking balls and bulldozers of the TOKI, the Turkish government’s Housing Development Administration. As a result, the Romani are being displaced.
The young man in Wonderland's opening scene is a member of Tahribad-I Isyan (“Rebellion of Destruction”), a group of activist Romani rappers, who use hip-hop to protest the destruction of their neighborhood. Impressed with the group’s work, Altindere collaborated with them to make this video. “They’re at the gates to knock down our neighborhood,” they rap, against a heavy bass backbeat mixed with the sharp staccato popping of traditional Turkish drums. The group runs through their neighborhood, clashing with a patrolling policeman and withstanding bullets. The camera follows, capturing it in panoramic, panning, and close-up shots. “Let art and music be your armaments,” one of the rappers instructs the others. “Dissent for destruction, stop the demolition!”