Taking back Istanbul’s empty streets during quarantine
For most of us, the COVID lockdowns represented a time of confinement and restriction. For Sayna Soleimanpour, the Iranian photographer also known by her Instagram handle @saynarte, the lockdowns also meant a sudden and unprecedented freedom to move through the Turkish city she lives in as she – and the other women there – never have before.
“Here in Turkey, it’s considered shameful for a woman to wear a skirt in public, or even to use her body freely,” she says. “If you’re feeling sexy one day and decide to take a walk down the street wearing an outfit that expresses that, you’ll be met with unwelcome glances and harassment – and sometimes even assault. If you’re going to wear something sexy, you’d really only do it at home.”
But with the lockdown came a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to venture out in public wearing exactly what she wanted – without having to worry about people’s reactions or judgements. “We were under a strict curfew here in Turkey, but I applied for permission to go outside. I traveled around the streets freely in the outfit I wanted to wear, and took self-portraits all over Istanbul. I’d normally experience violence for wearing something like this, but the ones who’d be making the aggressive or sexist comments were stuck inside,” Sayna says. “I had the city all to myself. And yes, this series was supposed to be fun. But it also represents my fight.”