Old Corners, Bright New Lights: LOS DU MAL

Istanbul has plenty that could, and perhaps should, change. However there are still plenty of old pieces of this city that only need a little polish to produce volumes of atmosphere. That’s why I’ve been really pleased to get acquainted with Metin Ilktekin and Raphael Faeh, the like-minded talents behind Los Du Mal.

These two interesting characters are making it their business to illuminate and energize some of the overlooked corners of the city, and have recently set up their Muvakkat Studio in Roumelie Han, one of the great Pera buildings that has fallen into decline over the years, yet still manages to provide plenty of inspiration for painters and other artists, as well as serving as the HQ for the latest incarnation of the Turkish Communist Party.

The pair met in Zurich three years ago but came from entirely different professional disciplines. Metin is a former private jet salesman and Raphael has a background in design and was working in a social media company. Neither were feeling entirely fulfilled in their roles, but spent plenty of time re-imagining uses for urban spaces.

Perhaps their first job will be finding a new plan for their current digs, Roumeli Han, which has acquired a new owner and an uncertain future. The two don’t seem worried that in August they might have to uproot again and leave. In fact, their demeanor is quite the opposite. They seem energized by this possible transition. “We have until August to celebrate the weirdness of this building,” says Raphael.

When I ask if they are working on a proposal for the building, they smile. For Metin, who grew up in Switzerland, but is half Turkish (on his father’s side) and Dutch from his mother, the choice of Istanbul, and this location certainly has personal relevance. “I want to give something back,” he says. “But it’s not about nostalgia, which can be dangerous. This is about drawing on the energy that’s here.”

That energy is symbolized by the han they currently occupy, whose residents represent a fragrant mix of Istanbul, offering trinkets, cafes, a bar, a betting house, and a home to painters and other artists. It’s a place that billows atmosphere. While I’m visiting, an attractive young student from Mimar Sinan University knocks at the door of their studio asking if there’s an exhibition going right now. Is it Kismet? Maybe.

So what exactly is it Los Du Mal offers? Individualized tourism, a look at the city, tailored for a musician, an architect, an author, something creative people with very specific needs just can’t find in Lonely Planet, or Fodor’s. A place to set up shop if you’re a band hashing out a new album, or an artist looking for inspiration. It’s not just about space, it’s also about providing a network of insiders that can outsiders into the places the everyday visitor to Istanbul, or even an Istanbullu hasn’t ever heard of, let alone glimpsed.

Essentially, it’s about experiences. “Stories are a powerful tool,” says Raphael, the more introspective of the two, scratching his beard. “We are the stories we tell ourselves … pulling stuff from the past, without nostalgia.”

That’s what’s interesting for me about these two complementary talents. They aren’t blind to this city’s cracks. And rather than ignoring or avoiding them, they let the light slip through — not the opportunity — revealing something both Turk and foreigner can appreciate, without having to obliterate the past and thus start over.

“It’s a people city,” says Metin. “Compared to [other] European cities, you can do things. There’s a lot more heart here. It’s about talking.We want to use our space to fuel events, discussion panels, paintings, music. When people come here they think about possibilities.”