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In March 2012, Zehra Doğan became one of the co-founders of JINHA, the all-female press agency banned and shut down since by Turk­ish State decree in Octo­ber 2016.

Sadık Çelik, a Kedis­tan edi­tor, met her in Istan­bul in 2013 dur­ing the Gezi events. So it was only nat­ur­al that he inter­view Zehra about JINHA for our mag­a­zine, in the begin­ning of 2016.

Our deep friend­ship with Zehra was born of this human and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship. Our com­mit­ment to inform on what she is sub­ject­ed to as a woman, a Kurd, a jour­nal­ist and an artist needs no fur­ther justification.

We have not stopped call­ing for sup­port in every pos­si­ble form, ever since the 141 days of her incar­cer­a­tion at Mardin in 2016 while await­ing tri­al, until her new and defin­i­tive impris­on­ment in June 2017, and through­out the peri­od of under­tain­ty in between dur­ing which she did not cease paint­ing and draw­ing in com­pli­cat­ed cir­cum­stances, as told in the book Les yeux grand ouverts” (Eyes Wide Open — Book in French).

The decree ban­ning JINHA is now one year old. Zehra com­mem­o­rat­ed this first anniver­sary in her fash­ion. From her prison in Amed, she man­aged to exfil­trate the draw­ings she goes on pro­duc­ing with the means at hand. She sends them through jour­nal­ist friends who pub­lished a few of them today in media of demo­c­ra­t­ic opposition.

The author­i­ties of the high secu­ri­ty wom­en’s prison in Diyarbakır have denied Zehra access to her paint­ing mate­ri­als. This mea­sure does not sin­gle her out specif­i­cal­ly; it cov­ers all mate­ri­als that might be used by women pris­on­ers for so-called leisure activ­i­ties . In ubuesque fash­ion, this even includes nature since the ban includes plants and, beyond, even the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “nat­ur­al land­scapes” in photos.

Zehra men­tions this in her letters:

I recycle everything I can

Since the prison admin­is­tra­tion would­n’t give me my mate­r­i­al, I had to find alter­na­tives. And I real­ized that I had every­thing on hand. I use wrap­pers, garbage and food. I pro­duce the col­ors from nat­ur­al sources. For exam­ple, olives pro­vide me with black, toma­to paste gives me red… I crush pars­ley for green… turmer­ic pro­vides yel­low. There is tea, coffee…and hon­ey for glue. For paper, we are allowed note­books and writ­ing paper. So I use news­pa­pers, but also all kinds of wrap­pings. The card­board from box­es of cook­ies, the alu­minum foil on containers…For spe­cial effects, I also use the alu­minum paper from packs of cigarettes.”

Art or garbage?

Obvi­ous­ly, not every­one under­stands using garbage and trans­form­ing it into Art…

In Sep­tem­ber, Zehra said in one of her let­ters: “A few days ago, I want­ed to give my father a draw­ing I had done on sal­vaged card­board. The guard did­n’t give it to him, say­ing I had used alu­minum foil from a pack of cig­a­rettes on my draw­ing. What’s more, the guard said to me: “What is that? A draw­ing or garbage?” I had glued to the wall the draw­ings I had done and tak­en my pic­ture with them. But they did­n’t give him that pho­to either, claim­ing it was forbidden.” 

Technical Inventiveness

At first, I paint­ed with my fin­gers, I had no paint brush­es. Then I sud­den­ly thought I could make one. I recov­ered bird feath­ers that had fall­en in the yard. I bunched them togeth­er, like a minia­ture broom, and tied them secure­ly with string. Then, I insert­ed the whole thing at the end of an emp­ty Bic ball­point and heat­ed it with a lighter to secure it. And voilà! Now I have a paintbrush!” 

Art Socialization

Zehra isn’t idle in prison. Far from it! Apart from the reg­u­lar col­lec­tive ses­sions of read­ing, dis­cus­sion and fur­ther study, she reads a lot on her own: “I focus on the Mid­dle East. I would like to fur­ther my knowl­edge of his­to­ry, cul­ture and region­al mythol­o­gy,” she writes. “I set aside 4 hours every day with one of my co-detainees to write a nov­el based on her life sto­ry. I draw and I paint when­ev­er I can. And I’ve also start­ed giv­ing draw­ing class­es to my friends here. In a way, I social­ize art in my fash­ion. They love to draw. Soon, I’ll be able to teach them how to make a paint­brush out of bird feathers.” 

She adds : “I would­n’t like you to imag­ine a sad-sack with­drawn Zehra, wast­ing her time. I write to tell you every­thing I do here, so that when you hear and pro­nounce the name Zehra, you pic­ture a woman with a strong morale and hope, some­one who is strong and upright.” 

Zehra’s let­ters are also filled with philo­soph­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, notably on impris­on­ment and resis­tance. We will soon pub­lish some excerpts but most of all, we will present them in read­ings or with sound illus­tra­tions dur­ing the exhi­bi­tions of her escaped works.

With these 8 new escaped works (which we hope to add to the Euro­pean exhi­bi­tion as soon as pos­si­ble), a short sto­ry present­ly being trans­lat­ed, and the lat­est reportage she did with one of her co-detainees (and not the least among them, Sara Aktaş, poet and Kur­dish activist), Zehra demon­strates, yet again, that nei­ther jour­nal­ism nor art can be muz­zled, even behind bars.

zehradogan.net | Dossier Zehra Doğan sur Kedistan | Facebook | Twitter @zehradoganjinha
Jinha Zehra Doğan

Zehra Doğan, Amed Prison Octo­ber 4 2017
Opus n°26 | Com­po­si­tion : ink, ball­point, turmer­ic, cof­fee, cig­a­rette paper, honey.

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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.