With Zehra Doğan, a full night talking about art

avec Zehra Doğan with

A night in London with Zehra Doğan… We are sitting at a small table with our glasses of tea. Facing me, Zehra is drawing Leyla Güven who is on hunger strike. For my part, I am reworking photos of hundreds of Zehra’s works she has brought with her. Deep in our tasks, we exchange nonetheless…


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“Tell me, why didn’t you interview me? I wanted to give my first interview to Kedistan. I’m angry at you”, Zehra tells me. I admit: “We knew you would be very much in demand upon your release. I even wrote to you about it… And that is what happened. Seeing you staggering under the onslaught, we didn’t want to bother you with Kedistan on top of everything else. Otherwise, we would have loved to do an interview with you, as you can well imagine.”

Laughing, we both say:“Why don’t we do it now.” And at 4 AM our conversation veers into a recorded interview…

The interview that emerges from this 45-minute conversation is long but is worth the time spent on it. If you wish to reach a deeper understanding of Zehra’s works, this is the opportunity to do so. Some of you may have seen some originals or their reproductions exhibited in several places throughout Europe during the past two years. Many others have also encountered them in the book “Les yeux grands ouverts” or on the web. The works she produced during her final period in prison are even more striking both by the scarcity of the means at her disposal and the searing intensity of the strokes…

Zehra, you had a project you had been thinking about for a long time. You had told us about it in your letters also: to open a workshop for graphic arts in Mardin, so that the children could come into contact with art; and not only the children, either… What encouragement did you find for this project after your release?

Yes. In fact, the project was wider than that of an artistic workshop for the children. I could describe it as follows: in the house where we lived in Sur, in Diyarbakır’s historical neighborhood, there was a special atmosphere. With friends in Sur, a number of painters, sculptors and other artists, we had managed to create a special atmosphere, all together. It was a house in which there were constant discussions, creation and a true artistic dynamic. Artists from other countries occasionally stayed with us, feeding this dynamic further. People with no artistic experience participated in this atmosphere and began artistic practices. They attempted to draw, to paint, to write poems, to create. This house had become an artistic space like a workshop.

Neighbors could knock on our door and ask “I have a relative, can you draw his portrait?”Our work had attracted the curiosity and respect of the neighborhood. Neighbors greeted us, asked us if we needed anything…In any event, it was a beautiful climate. And I kept asking myself “Why not create the same thing in Mardin?” So the project was something in continuity with this experience. It hasn’t begun yet and, indeed, it is not limited to children. A space allowing a similar creative atmosphere, where all kinds of artistic supplies are available to anyone who wishes to use them, who wants to create, to join into the discussions…

When I left prison, I met with warm and intense interest from the children. Hundreds of children wanted to talk with me, take my picture. They made drawings, they showed me their creations “you see, I draw too!” they said with enthusiasm. They offered me their drawings… As for their parents they would ask “Where can we buy artistic supplies? What must we do so that our children can learn and practice art? They would ask “When will you open your workshop? We want to send our children there too“, “Can you sign up my child?” Some parents thought registration was required. At least, I think that is how they understood it…Yet, for me, I imagined it as a place where the doors would be open to everyone. But it was truly wonderful to see this enthusiasm. Usually children say they want to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer when they grow up…So do their families. And yet, here were a great number of children saying “When I grow up, I will be an artist!”and their families were in agreement. It gave me immense pleasure.

On countless occasions, you said that art should belong to the people. In your notion of a workshop, you also see it as an open space for creativy and the children and their families agree with you. Pure happiness, then.

And your family? What did your family think when your works made their way out of prison and reached them? Did you talk about it after your release? Do you wish to share this with us?

At first, my family didn’t pay much attention to my creations, not as much as they do now. In other words, my drawings were much appreciated, even when I was still a child, but my art was not considered a true profession, my family did not want me to become a painter. Not that my parents were aginst it or stopped me from pursuing this, but like many parents, they dreamt of their children as doctors, lawyers…

Of course the drawings I sent from jail were not the first ones they had seen. For instance, a few years ago, I had hung one of my paintings on a wall in their house. And one day, what did I see? My mother had used it as a pin cushion. I was angry and asked her “Why did you change my painting into a pin-cushion?” She answered “What? It would be better for my pins to get lost?” Years later, the fact I was jailed for one of my drawings, the interest shown for my work, the fact that friends went to the house asking to see my work probably gave a different understanding to my family. Same thing for the fact Banksy showed my drawing of Nusaybin above his fresco in New York… I think my family then thought “Our daughter is doing something fine.” I’m told my father once stood before my painting at home, looked at it for a long time and said: “In fact, it seems this is a masterpiece and we didn’t understand that for years.” (She laughs). To be honest, it was no such thing. It did not deserve any more interest than that shown to it by my family during all those years. If truth be told, it’s when they became aware of the interest in my later drawings that they saw it as a “masterpiece”. It was a bit funny.

One day, when I was in jail in Tarsus, my father asked me: “Don’t take this amiss, but I’m very curious to understand what your drawings are saying? What do you want them to tell us? There are naked women, with big breasts, big eyes…” When I started explaining, he interrupted me: “That’s what I understood. I thought their eyes were big, so they saw things, they bore witness with messages.”I realized he had understood very well.

My family spread out on the ground every work they received from prison and spent hours interpreting it. They would discuss them amongst themselves. “She did such and such, she meant to say this or that. She used this color for such and such a reason.”My mother wrote songs for me, laments. My nieces and nephews – I have 14 – all say: “When I grow up, I will be an artist.” Those are lovely things for me.

In fact, Mardin is a town that raises its children with art. The town itself is art. Mardin offers a life where people love to be happy, where they enrich their daily conversations with tales, quotations. Perhaps my stubborness brought a bit more light on something that was already there…

They understood then that you wanted to express something as correct.

I don’t really share in an approach that would speak of understanding correctly or not.

That is a better way of saying; they understood what you wanted to express.

Yes. Correct or wrong do not exist. We can’t say “Now they understand art“, but we should say “They understood art, but it has taken on other dimensions”.

Zehra Doğan Tarsus
Improvised exhibition prior to her liberation, in Tarsus prison.
Zehra Doğan with little Ayşe the daughter of Şemal, and a friend Hülya. 

In your letters you told us about your artistic activities in jail. You wrote that in the beginning of your imprisonment, you gave drawing lessons to co-detainees. And with great modesty you said “at ma level, I attempt to socialize art”. You let us know there were many other talented women. And in the following period you began creating with them. On the back of several of the prison works, are even listed the names of all the participants. They are collective creations…This collective approach greatly touched and impressed in the countries where your works were exhibited, people found your creations and your words very moving.

For me, life itself is art. People, mainly those in opposition, stand before something they contest and produce something with their ideas and their words. Their production is also art. Any person producing something is an artists in some way, because he or she attempts to bring beauty to life. The fact of embellishing life requires an esthetic discipline. That is the essence of what you learn in art schools. The school simply attempts to teach a basic discipline.

In jail, several of my friends were interested in drawing, in painting. I was drawing in almost impossible conditions. Under the bed, for example, with extremely limited light and perspective. Even this interested them. I think they found me likeable and stubborn. At first they gathered round and watched me work. Then, I attempted to give them lessons. When I say “giving lessons”, I simply tried to teach them what I could. Don’t go thinking this was a fantastic apprenticeship. As each shared her own experiences and knowledge, I did the same. It was not a “teaching” coming from on high. I insist on specifying this, because I wouldn’t want this to be misunderstood.

This was a most interesting period. My friends shared in each stage of creation, even in finding titles for the drawings or numbering them. For example, every Friday after cleaning out our quarters, we washed our clothes on the promenade. Then there followed the moment to enjoy our coffee. We were allowed coffee only once a week. During this coffee break, I would tear a sheet or a shirt and spread it on the ground. Or sometimes, my friends took care of this. Using the coffee we would make impressions on it by using the coffee grounds at the bottom of our cups. Sometimes, the imprint formed a circle, sometimes the coffee would spread on the fabric and take on different shapes. Together, we would then trace the designs that appeared. In any event, my friends never let me draw by myself, “Wait, wait, do like this, do like that!” they said… (We laugh). They interpreted, “That’s not so hot”, “Look at my stain here, it’s much prettier.” And that was the case. (She laughs again.)

I pinned my drawings to the clothesline. Everyone sat facing it and the comments started up, accompanied by tea and cigarettes…”That spot is very beautiful,”Over there, that’s not bad”…We stayed a long time like this, interpreting, sometimes serious, sometimes mocking. In fact, each of those moments was a full-scale exhibition.

All of a sudden, I’m suddenly remembering how, one day, I had made a drawing on a towel that told about jail…I had pinned it up on the clothesline, as usual. And I wanted to add a background lightly stained with tea. In this way, I wanted to bring what I had drawn into the foreground. I prepared the tea, put a sponge in it and when mother Zeyno saw I was about to apply the tea to the towel, she ran up to me and struck my hand: “Stop, stop! You’ll spoil it all! Don’t do that!” I tried to explain it would be even prettier but she said “No! No!”and wouldn’t let me do it. A bit later, I saw mother Zeyno on the promenade, immersed in her book. I still had a mind to add a background to my drawing. I started moving up to the clothesline, slowly…She saw me and started scolding: “I can’t even read quietly from thinking…that girl will try to come over and do something to the drawing!” (She laughs). As if she was pushing away a child who might damage a work. And yet, I was the one who had drawn it…But she had made it hers to such an extent…As I drew while talking with them, consulting them and learning myself about the drawings I was making, everyone found a part of herself in it and could strike my hand, saying: “You’re going to spoil it, stop, why don’t you!”… In the end, I managed to do the background anyway, the following morning, on the sly, before mother Zeyno woke up…

So what did mother Zeyno say when she saw it?

When she woke up, she saw it and said: “Eh, it’s not so bad after all, it’s fine, it’s fine.” I was the one who had done the drawing, but she had forgotten that. This forgetfulness is excellent. They forget. They do not put you on a pedestal, saying “Wow, she’s an artist“. They forgot. As if they had done it themselves. This is a good thing.

Elif, for example…Elif is a very young woman. One morning, she awoke and said: “Zehra, I must tell you, I had a dream.” On the previous evening, we had made coffee stains and left the drawing to dry in order to do touch-ups on the following day. Elif told me her dream: “We are looking at the sky. The sky is full of stars, but the stars are the stains we made on the sheet yesterday.”The previous evening’s drawing was in her dream. I was extremely touched. Those types of things gave me feelings even greater than happiness. We finished this drawing together and I wrote the story on the back…


Stars” Amed Jail, August 25 2018, collective work of the BK-4 Quarter.
Coffee, turmeric, ashes, pencil, stolen paint

The fact my friends made the work their own, found themselves in it, dreamt about it, was very powerful and interesting, and made me very happy. They were constantly coming up with new idea. “I have an idea. It hasn’t left me since last night. Can you draw it?”they would say, or “Draw this also”…

I painted for each one of my liberated friends. On the day of my own liberation, in the morning, I was still drawing for two friends. When I left, all my friends in Tarsus had a drawing. I reserved my last two or three weeks prior to my liberation to draw for them. On the last days, we held an exhibition in the promenade and had pictures taken.

If truth be told, my first exhibition was not the one done in Diyarbakır and titled “141”, containing my drawings from the prison of Mardin. My first real exhibition took place within Mardin prison itself. The first exhbition in my life…And a real one.

My co-detainee friends made all the preparations. We had even organized a cocktail. For example, you remove the crust from the bread and let the bread dry in the sun. Then, you put it into a pillow case and crush it with a glass. You obtain a sort of flour. You add chocolate melted in the samovar, a bit of milk and oil. Once well mixed, we cooked the whole thing in the samovar. We then rolled it into small balls and covered them with coconut. Along with these goodies, we laid out cookies and fruit juice and, voilà, there was our cocktail for the inauguration of the exhibition…We had laid out the drawings against the bunk beds. That is how we organized an exhibition…

A real exhibition…

Yes! That exhibition in Mardin was really a success.

Isn’t that what collectivisation of art is all about? It doesn’t happen by setting yourself apart from the others. As an artist, you’re not under some kind of glass dome. You practice art, art is your philosophy. Plain and simple. It isn’t an identity, a privilege.

Art is in the position of being a part of life…

Yes. What I most fear now is the risk of losing that simplicity. When I came out, I was subjected to intense sollicitation. Very, very itense. That intensity frightened me a bit. Because I think about it all the time, I ask myself: “Zehra Dogan, what are you doing? What are you doing at this very moment? Is that really you? Is it possible you are being influenced in a negative way?”…I can also get lost in that intense interests…It could happen that I no longer find myself. If that were the case, I would not be happy. If someone looks at one’s self and sees some “elevated identity”, that can become a nuisance after a while. At least, this is how I see it for myself. In everything I have done up till now, no matter where I was, in Jinha, in jail, the people who appreciated me did so while accepting my good aspects and my mistakes. This is also how I love people. When we put on an “elevated identity”, there is no more room for mistakes. And a human being will no longer be human. A human personality also contains his or her mistakes. You do foolish things, you get annoyed… Some people get angry at you…You must digest everything, even that anger. Because critcism aimed at you requires acceptance, digesting. But if you put yourself on a pedestal, that becomes impossible.

Today, some people I do not know approach me carefully. I am still in a state of bewilderment, but it is beautiful. But do I have the humility to undertand and interpret all this? Will I always know who I am? For that, there must always be a balance. If not, it won’t be possible…

Today, if I say something stupid, Naz can criticize me. I will listen… If I were angry with Naz, I would tell her, she would accept if, because that criticism would come from the Zehra she knows. But if I start having a swollen head tomorrow, I won’t be able to listen to criticism from Naz, or she won’t want to accept mine. Perhaps these are the things that can make a human being miserable, more than life problems relative to possessions, to comfort, to subjective things… A person, whether sleeping in the finest bed or on the sidewalk, if his or her heart stays the same, the person will be the same. But if you build up certain things in your head, in your heart, and become a megalomaniac, whether in a beautiful bed or on the sidewalk, you will become the same selfish person…That is why you must never lose the balance and constantly keep an accounting of yourself.

It’s the same thing in art. You must not turn your back on the sources that nourish you. I was born on the lands of Kurdistan. I grew up and lived with the motifs from Kurdistan and found meaning in everything through those riches. Yes, the injustices and the massacres through which we live are a great misfortune, but we also have beautiful opportunities. There is a struggle going on, in which most people in Europe could not live, nor their child be forged. And yet, it is a chance to be a child who grew up in the Kurdish struggle. In truth, it is even a luxury…This must be well understood and well interpreted. Turning my back on this would be a big mistake. It would lead to self-dissolution.

If the Tate Modern Museum in London gives me the opportunity to exhibit, as is the case, if other exhibitions are organized in England, in France and in other countries and cities, of course I will accept and I will attend. I will not turn my back on them either, because it is Europe. I will try to be everywhere, combining reality with my Kurdish identity and attempting to have a universal outlook. If I focus only on my own lands and turn my back on the outside world, how will I make my people and its reality known to others?

Somewhere, I am attempting to make protest art. Because I have things to say, my people have things to say. I must use every space of expression that opens before me. But how will the same person be able to work both in Paris and in Rojava? That is what I would like to do…

Moreover, all these opportunities weren’t offered to me solely because of my personal work. If I had advanced alone to this spot, wanting success would be understandable. Up to a point, you can understand those who moved ahead on their own and got a swollen head, you can even accept it in a way. But I have absolutely no right to do that, because I exist through the the means the Kurdish struggle gave me. People who pay attention and ask “What does Zehra Dogan want to express”are really saying “What does the Kurdish struggle mean?” Because I feed myself on this struggle, I walked the path it showed me, telling me:“Look, there is this struggle going on, you can move forward on that road.” For that reason, I cannot change, I have no right to change.

On the other hand, I reached this point where I am receiving all this attention now with the collective support of Kedistan, of PEN, Amnesty, Banksy and Ai Weiwei, and also a number of organizations and persons I cannot mention. If you are someone with a bit of a head on your shoulders, you can see that all this did not happen by itself. Yes, there was something to start off with, but there was collective support and efforts to make it visible. I think I must see myself as a particle in this whole.

Dear Zehra, you know, you are saying in your way what I always wanted to tell you… I wrote it to you in my letters, from time to time, but this is maybe the right moment to reapeat it. Everything you drew and wrote, be it before your arrest or during your incarceration, overcoming the impossibilities with much creativity, and everything which managed to reach our hand brought us your expression without losing sight of its nature. On all five continents, your words and your testimony were understood as you express them, which is to say as collective and universal. And this is truly precious. We have observed this perception during your exhibitions and the reading initiatives where we gave voice to your texts. Believe me, we are not saying this as a delusion inspired by our affection for you. We truly observed it. We noticed the same thing every time. Besides, you are free now and you will see it with your own eyes.

As the testimony from your brush and your pen crossed the bridge through art, it touched a very wide public, beyond that of convinced activists. The power of your works reached out even to people who set foot in an exhibition, with a simple yearning for art, and your meaning instantly reached out to those who opened their eyes and ears.

Does not the road of art toward reason go through the heart?

Starting with a simple question such as “Why is this young woman in jail?” an accounting was done of the whole History, the name of the injustices and the massacres were pronounced… Each time, people went through a feeling a guilt…”All this is happening right now, before our eyes. How is it that we don’t know about it?”… Once they were aware of the lack of information, the following question became “Now that we know, what can we do?” The exchanges often went as far as critical discussion of notions such as the State, and to questions on possible alternatives. Eyes also turned toward Rojava. This public was made up of people who often had never even heard the name Rojava or who knew nothing of the geography of Kurdistan… We saw these people, who had come by pure chance, continue these discussions amongst themselves for several minutes, on leaving the exhibition…

And it is exactly as you say. Attempting to be in the world, which is to say, as an artist, not placing the person under the light, but rather your testimony. This is how a powerful solidarity was built up around you. It is a bit like a snowball that turned into an avalanche as it sped down the hill…

To summarize, you transformed the basic materials into an artistic testimonial and the persons who were able to see, to hear, to understand and to feel often gathered round you to give wings to your message and make it visible. All those people were nothing but transmitters…There is nothing surprising in the fact they put their heart into it.

Yes, the fact you want to carry a collective and universal message and testimony in any space opened to you is understandable and honorable. No matter where it may be…

As you know, during a festival organized around your exhibition, there were some ten round tables, including one on art, in September-October 2018. One of the participants in this round table, Niştiman Erdede, a Kurdish artist exiled in Switzerland, stressed an important topic. I will try to transmit it in her words as best I remember. “I think two things give life to the artist. Emotion and motivation. Motivation animates the artist toward advancing and succeeding. As for emotion, it is linked to the culture, the people, the History of which the artist is an integral part. When the artist follows solely motivation, he or she advances toward personal success. And, unfortunately, he/she will be recognized in the art market monopolized by the West. Myself, I feel like a partcile from the lands on which I grew, a molecule from the culture, the struggles that shaped me. For this reason, emotion animates me and makes me act. For me, if there is one thing that must be elevated through art, it is the testimony of the culture and the History feeding me. This is how you must act if you do not want to act through motivation and become a monkey on the art markets, on which I cast a most critical eye.” These words led to much reflection in the public. Exchanges continued long after the round table. For this raised the question of a balance that is not always evient in the “career” of every artists. A precious balance… I have the feeling that this accent goes in the same direction as what you are saying.

Another question… I’m quoting from memory… In the first letter you wrote from Diyarbakır prison, where artistic supplies were forbidden: “I so want to draw… When I see scraped paint on the walls, I see figures.” A week later, in a new letter, you told us: “I’ve begun drawing again. In fact, I had everything I needed right here!” And thus you started creating again, using foodstuffs, wrappers, fabric, newspapers. At that point, we considered that the fact of creating with what was at hand also gave a form to your art. Your research was also shaped by the material you had. The reflections, materials, techniques imposed by the conditions made you advance in a way, artistically speaking. This is how we observed and interpreted.

Many of the works you produced in prison reminded us of the scraped painting on the walls that you had described at first. Those where you start from coffee stains, for example… “Zehra both follows plastic research through this stain, and achieves performances in jail“, we said. Isn’t the process of creation a part of the work? What do you say? Did we react correctly…

Yes… You know, when as a child, you looked at the clouds and tried to see things in them…

Ah! That’s it, exactly!

If we could keep our childhood heart, life would be truly beautiful. But we lose it, over time. We move toward totally different things and forget that heart. And sometimes, we find it again, under certain conditions. In jail, for example… When we were little, we saw things in the mosaics on a street. Or on a shore where, stick in hand, you draw something in the sand. That is also art. It is so remarkable. In fact, art is something so simple. You can never reach something you place too high. You then start to idolize it…But art is not like that. It is a simple action. People who elevate art say: “You cannot practice it. There are people authorized to do so, we are the ones who determine who they are. Go and spend billions of dollars, and own it”. This is what is at stake, in fact. You mustn’t let yourself get caught in this. You, as a person, can also produce a work of art and hang it in your home. Even if it is made up of simple strokes, it will express your person, your feelings at that moment. And it will give you happiness. Why should you be afraid to hang it on the wall? In journalism, most of us do not get our card as such. Is the presence of the card in your pocket what make you a journalist, or the fact of practicing journalism? You don’t become a journalist simply by putting a card in your pocket. It’s the same with art. You don’t become an artist because you have a diploma from such or such institutions, or the fact they authorize you to be an artist. You are an artist, right where you are. If you are a farm laborer… what you draw on the ground with your fingers during the meal break, this also is art. Human beings must be conscious of their own worth. There is no need for any confirmation from anyone whatsoever. I would even say that if someone attempted to “confirm” by saying “you are an artist, and you are not“, this would be arrogance. Whoever shows such arrogance is a cretin. You must know this…

Really, the Kurdish struggle taught me everything. For example, the piece of fabric mother Taybet held in her hand as a white flag…Perhaps it was a T-Shirt or a scarf, or even something else with another use. But mother Taybet whose lifeless body stayed in the street for seven days and nights, a few meters from her door, was holding nothing other than a white flag. How did we see it? As a T-Shirt? As a scarf? No, it was something else entirely. It said: “I am a civilian.” And when you saw it, there was no need for words. Mother Taybet did not speak, she did not yell. She said nothing, but you understood. T-Shirt or scarf, who cares, none of us today know what it was but we all know the meaning it had. Everything can become something else. The same rule applies in art. Arugula, coffee, menstrual blood… The person looking at my drawings do not see arugula, coffee, blood. He or she sees the result…

It is so simple. You take a road and you continue…

You also learn not to dominate. For example, when you own different paints, they offer you a choice, so you choose. You say :”I will use this one on this section, with these dimensions, that one here, to obtain such and such a texture…”Like a god, you decide what you will create, you proceed and you obtain a result. You look at it like something divine. What I was doing in jail was not like that.

I cut a piece of a sheet or of a T-shirt and put it on the ground. Each fabric has a different absorption capability. You pour something on it, blood, for example. While the fabric is absorbing the blood, you do not know when it will stop. Creation is out of your hands, it is at the mercy of the materials. Then, you savor the spectacle between the fabric and the blood accepting one another…You no longer dominate, you wait. When the shape goes toward a form you like, you become enthusiastic and you say: “All right, stop now.” But the stain may go on spreading. Then you think :”It doesn’t matter, it’s beautiful anyway, I can make something of it”…What is happening? You are not longer dominating. And this is reflected in your whole life. Because even without being aware of it, you internalize this experience, and it is reflected in your friendships and loves. You learn to live, listening, understanding others and putting things in common.

When the fabric and the blood end their mutual action, they invite your intervention: “Come on, it’s your turn.” At that point, you add what you want. In a way, they authorize you to do so. Thus you acquire qualities of attention, understanding, empathy and a sense of the collective. This sharing is possible in artistic creation. This is why I think these stains have very deep meanings.

Somewhere, the materials also become participants in a creation you realize like a performance…

Yes, that’s exactly right…A totally different something is created and the creators are not only them, nor am I the sole creator. It is a whole that nature has authorized and to which it has given birth.

Zehra Doğan
December 9 2018, Tarsus Prison
Pomegranate skin, red cabbage, moss and rain…

You know, now that you’ve explained this whole approach, many of your works, especially those you had left out in the rain, have taken on a very deep meaning…

Here is how those works were done: I didn’t say “let’s go put them out in the rain.” Really, each coincidence teaches you something new…I had obtained a color by boiling peelings from a pomegranate in the samovar. I poured that color on the papers, I added some mosses I had scraped off the promenade and to allow this to dry, I placed them under a board in the kitchen. A bit later, I saw that the drawings had stained the tiles. In order to clean the floor, I carried them out to the promenade. And suddently, it started to rain. But such a rain! My friends said: “Let’s go gather up the drawings” but it was raining so hard that we were going to be soaked. While we watched and wondered what to do, we noticed the beauty in the meeting between the drawings and the rain. So I said: “Let’s leave them. We’ll see what comes of it.” My friends were angry. “Your work will be ruined, it will come out lousy!” I answered: “I didn’t do much by making stains, once dried, there will be a surprise, let’s leave them”… All of us at the window, we followed the show. The drops of rain danced with the materials on the drawings, they sang together. And we plunged into this landscape. We drank tea, we talked. We expressed many things on what we were observing. Thanks to that downpour and those drawings, our day was magnificent. Because all this created a lovely atmosphere. In no gallery, in no museum no matter how prestigious an art location it may be in the world, will you be able to see such a performance. You see this performance between the walls of a prison and you are part of it even. You can make your life more beautiful that way. You can see the beauty of life everywhere. Even if you stand in line in front of a fantastic place where you will find superb creations you can reach after lining up for hours and buying the most expensive ticket in the world, you will not find such a performance.

Where should you stand? Above all, you must know this. This is why, between those four walls, I saw this performance that I will never find anywhere else in the world, that could not occur anywhere other than where I was. Now, even by spending fortunes, no gallery and no museum can repeat it. An evanescent performance in a bit of fleeting time. A moment with no replay. We had the good fortune to see this. I am but one of the witnesses. And a magnificent work was the result of that moment. I never made a more beautiful painting.

People would need to listen to one another, to listen to nature. You see, there are pre-determined acceptance or refusal criteria, biases, beliefs such as “art is done this way, with this type of brush, that kind of paint“, or expectations so that this museum, that authoritiy authorize you, thoughts on how you must be in order to be a confirmed artist…In fact, art is not a thing we can emprison in framed acceptance or refusal measures. Really, art is not that.

Nor is life…

Yes, exactly.

Thank you, Zehra. Everything you are saying does not only apply to art, but to all of life, really. You see why it is not for nothing that I tell you “you teach me things every day.” I thank you for making us think, and I kiss you on the forehead.

You are the one I thank. Besides, without you support from the beginning…

With all my heart…There’s no need to talk about it. I won’t even write it.

I want you to write it. It is a reality everyone knows. It is support you offered me first and foremost as a friend. I am not talking of support that came from on high. We were already friends before I went to jail. And I thank you for the great support you gave me, as a friend, during my emprisonment. You will write that, all right? (She laughs).


Zehra Doğan continues to work like a bee. Toward the end of May, she is a guest of the Tate Modern in London. And a number of projected exhibitions are on their way…

You can follow her news and the exhibition agenda on her site zehradogan.net

This year again, on November 15th in Paris, during the evening of readings around the World Day dedicated to imprisoned writers, we will hear texts by Zehra, in her presence. The initative is co-organized by the French PEN Club and Editions des femmes. A rendez-vous as a preview for Zehra Dogan’s prison correspondence, soon to be published by Editions des femmes under the title “Nous aurons aussi des beaux jours” (We will also have beautiful days), and as an opportunity to visit the exhibition of original works at Espace des Femmes.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste

Chat de gouttière sans frontières.
Journalisme à l'Université de Marmara.
Architecture à l'Université de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.
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Naz Oke

REDACTION | Journaliste Chat de gouttière sans frontières. Journalisme à l'Université de Marmara. Architecture à l'Université de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.

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