Curious Steps inspired from memory walks organized by feminist historian Andrea Petö in Budapest, ausZeiten feministisches Archiv in Bochum and Soledad Falabella in Chile. In 2014, an exhibition titled Mobilizing Memory: Women Witnessing was held within the framework of the workshop Mobilizing Memory for Action. Held by Columbia University’s “Women Creating Change” initiative, the workshop brought together academicians, artists, and activists from Turkey and abroad to discuss activism models that can strengthen commemorative practices. At the end of the workshop, the first Curious Steps walk was held in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district on September 18, 2015, with the collaboration of SU Gender and the Karakutu Association. Since 2014, more than 40 memory walks were organized in Kadıköy, Balat, and Beyoğlu.
One should mention Militourism festivals to better understand the political and social context of the Curious Steps. These festivals held by activists against militarism and conscientious objectors in 2005, 2006 and 2007 in different cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir were among the most important projects that offered a strong criticism of militarist spaces. The Curious Steps team says that Militourism Festival was an inspiration for them to problematize the relationship between the residents of the city and the places they live in from the perspective of gender.
One of the most critical sources for the Curious Steps has been the Women’s Museum of Istanbul. This virtual museum “focuses on the biographies of women who have played a leading role in Istanbul’s culture and arts scene by ‘opening up new avenues’ for women who have been following them. One of the founders of Curious Steps, anthropologist Ayşegül Altınay tells that most of the stories recounted by young volunteers during the walks have been compiled from the archive of the Women’s Museum of Istanbul.
"Curious Steps: Gender and Memory Walks of Istanbul, is a commemorative activity that aims to reframe the relationship to the city from the perspective of gender and collective memory. Organized by Sabancı University Gender and Women’s Studies Center of Excellence (SU Gender), memory walks took their first steps in 2014. Curious Steps characterizes walking around the city’s streets from a feminist perspective not only as a search for women’s silenced stories but also as a form of taking action. Memory walks that focus on gender help the participants discover women whose work and lives have been left in the shadows because of their gender even though they made great contributions to culture, science, and arts.
Young volunteers of the Curious Steps also direct their attention towards the stories of LGBTIs as well as ethnic and cultural minorities springing from the idea that those whose lives are rendered invisible are not only women. Therefore, they mobilize the collective memory of silenced individuals and spaces. In memory walks, participants generally follow a route that has a couple of important stops and listen to a different story at each stop. These stories are on successes as well as failures, but all of them inspire a sense of courage instead of intimidation and giving up. Because memory walks are also collective actions, they try to generate a rich plurality with every shared idea and emotion.
Curious Steps emphasizes that because official histories only provide a history that has been written by and about ‘the sovereign’, they prevent the right to the truth by employing mechanisms of denial, refusal, and censorship. According to Ayşe Gül Altınay, when we listen to or read this one-dimensional history, only one simple question pops up in our minds: “Where are the women?” Altınay continues; “The historical narratives written by the sovereign do not provide us with any information as to what kind of lives women and all other social identities that have been ignored were having, where were they living, how did they contribute to the geography and culture they were living in, what were the changes and transformations caused by their presence, and what they were fighting against. This is exactly why searching for silenced histories help us see social realities from different perspectives and get closer to these realiti(es)”.
These walks aim to encourage its participants, including SU Gender members, to rethink their relations with the cities they live in and visit. This thinking process also entails recognizing how unequal gender norms, which have been mostly shaped by dominant ideologies, are effective in defining people’s interactions with the material and symbolic forms taken by these spaces. Moreover, discussing notions of human rights, collective memory, hate speech, courage and activism together during the walks help participants discover relations and parallels between different these notions.
The organizers of the walks express that; thanks to the volunteers who compile and narrate the stories, these walks turn into experiences that provide hope and strength to participants and volunteers alike; and the fact that being aware of women who did not give up and continued to create under difficult circumstances of the past and in the face of all kinds of oppression is a source of inspiration for dealing with obstacles and difficulties faced by participants in their own lives.
Civil initiatives in different cities such as Ankara and Antakya also organize memory walks inspired by Curious Steps. Curious Steps also held a training workshop with a small group in Ankara and this group organized a couple of memory walks following the training.
One of the most important challenges faced by the Curious Steps team is the lack of information and documents they need to create the stories in the official and mainstream archives. For this reason, there are information and data gaps in most of the stories. Moreover, because those who compile and narrate the stories consist of young volunteers, this may sometimes pose an obstacle to continuity which is a prerequisite to having a well-rounded story.
Additionally, the intense urban transformation in Istanbul continues to radically transform the city. This is the reason is why not finding a place that was on the walk route is another problem faced by the team. Still, this makes possible the creation of an archive that records the city’s transformation, thanks to the photographs that have been taken during the Curious Steps memory walks.