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Street Food or Street Art?: İstiklal’s Butter Sculptures


ANAMED Fellow Ashley Dimmig shares her admiration of butter sculptors and their artistic output near ANAMED, where urban artists supply unending entertainments for passersby…

Kitty-corner to the grand gates of Galatasaray Lycee is a fast-food establishment serving classic Turkish street foods, döner, and kumpir (fig.1). With the smell of roasted meat and fried potatoes wafting into the street, the men behind the counter call out to passersby in an attempt to draw in customers. Front and center, at the corner of the buffet of goods ready to be stuffed into overlarge baked potatoes is a mound of glistening, bright yellow butter. This mound of butter is not simply a pile of fat ready to flavor food. It is sculpted into the shape of a creature (fig. 2). Today the butter is in the shape of an animal that reasonably resembles a monkey. The fur is articulated with strokes of a fork, and the ears are as large as the soft sculpting material will allow. The face is formed with other edible details — tomatoes for eyes, black olives for nostrils, and a strip of red pepper for the protruding tongue. Much like many Roman marble statues, the buttery animal is supported by a tree stump — also made out of butter — and topped with leafy greens.

This happy little creature is not unique. A couple times a week — perhaps whenever the butter needs to be restocked — Patsosis’s butter supply is artfully crafted into a new sculpture. Some are timely and culturally relevant. For example, on February 29 of this year, the day of a match between Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş football clubs, the butter took the form of the teams’ respective mascots, a canary and an eagle (fig.3) (Fenerbahçe won 2-0). Several weeks earlier, on January 11, the butter took the form of a rather feminine unicorn — complete with large doe eyes and long eyelashes made out of springs of fresh dill (fig.4). If you stop to admire the butter sculptures (or take a photo as I have done on many occasions), the workers are thrilled to see someone recognize the faces in their butter, and they proudly point to their friend, the artist, who smiles sheepishly in the corner.

Walking the streets of Beyoğlu over the last several months has revealed a near constant change of visual stimuli in the form of street art. Very many walls of the buildings that comprise labyrinthine Beyoğlu are covered in bold designs expertly spray-painted in vibrant colors. Some of these paintings are rather naturalistic — both beautiful and perhaps even haunting (fig. 5) — while others are direct references to pop culture phenomena such as The Simpsons or SpongeBob SquarePants. Immediately across from Patsosis is perhaps the largest street art mural (albeit seemingly financially sponsored), executed on a large curved wall wrapped around the corner of a building during its renovation (fig. 6). It, too, exhibits many pop culture references — from Angry Birds and the X-Files to an interpretation of the poster for the 2015 blockbuster movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. Many tourists can be seen taking photos interacting with this large mural in various ways, sometimes mimicking the figures or posing in reaction to them.


While this ever-changing mural is indeed striking and easily draws people’s attention, I find the butter sculptures of Patsosis much more endearing. The creation of such whimsical figures out of everyday materials provides more than just a quick photo-op. It quite simply brings a little joy to both its makers and viewers who walk by every day. In that way, the butter sculptors of Patsosis offer up a different kind of street art, one which — perhaps ironically — stands in contrast to its very commercial urban surroundings (given that they are produced in a fast-food chain restaurant). On the corner of İstiklal and Yeni Çarşi Caddesi, these quirky little butter sculptures face off against big Hollywood and various pop culture phenomena recognizable the world over, and hold their own because of their quaintness and eccentricity. I know I am not alone when I say that watching out for a new butter sculpture has become a very regular part of my life in Beyoğlu this year