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Dear Zehra,

I am writing you this 71st letter, which I am also making public. You already know a lot about its contents. But I would like the way in which solidarity is built around you to be understood, both by those who work to develop it, and by those who wonder how things are achieved, as well as for those who would like to support and who wonder what can I do?”. I want all your friends who are locked up in the same walls or somewhere else to know that. I would like them all to learn how this solidarity around you fills hearts and relates to all hostages, whether they are journalists, artists, authors, lawyers, activists or politicians. I would like you to know how those who contribute to this solidarity are struggling in enthusiasm, each according to their own means, and how this wave is spreading over such large areas, and particularly to let you know that you are not alone. We all want that.

Sometimes, certain people, in a certain way and for certain reasons, can reach visibility. That’s how life is. And it can become something, more than “shining”, to show oneself.

Yes, it is about a light, but when this light is a testimony in itself, it can, instead of illuminating itself, radiate beyond the person. In truth, this radiation creates a responsibility. A responsibility that this person must bear for others. Today your name and your face are known in the world, become the subject of artists and defenders of rights. And the light illuminates all political hostages and the reasons for their imprisonment. When we pronounce the name Zehra, the images that appear before our eyes, are not only Zehra’s black eyes and her brush, but all the Zehras imprisoned… The testimonies that you archive with your pencil and your brush, your solid posture, your collective and universal discourse, have become a door ajar towards all the prisoners, and towards the realities of the present and the past. And those who look, if only once through this opening, are emotionally affected, they cannot turn their backs and leave. No matter how they arrived, for love of art, or questioning current events, they all pass through the threshold. This is how this solidarity expands and grows. For you all…

About a year ago, the day your first works appeared before our eyes, with all their colours, we were suffocating hearing their story. We, who were the first to see them in the light of day, belonged to a circle that had followed what you tell us with your art, from a distance but almost live. At that time we were few, now we are many…

Your works, which constitute a historical account, were photographed professionally and always in solidarity, archived one by one, then framed. And do you know that their framing also is done with so much care. The work of the framer that we asked for on advice, evolved from the first contact towards a work that goes beyond a commercial relationship. She looks for strategies so that your drawings containing natural materials can breathe, so that your honey collages do not stick to the glasses of the frames, and so that your drawings made on pieces of fabric do not lose their authenticity. And, using all the finesse of her craft, she finds solutions, tricks. The person to whom we have entrusted this work has become, with her sensitivity as a woman, her heart and her gifted hands, a friend. Every step of this solidarity is like that. We met new friends there, and it continues.

When the time came to retrieve the first framed works, we needed a large vehicle. It was the president of the Kedistan association who landed us his truck and accompanied us. We got going with emotion and joy and after the transport, we stopped to chat. Our president said suddenly, thoughtful and with the eyes looking at nowhere: “It’s really strange, look, we are several to be gathered here… Some people have the gift to put others in motion, like a locomotive. They give off a force, an energy like that. When I was young, there was Angela Davis. I remember, we did a lot of things around her… Zehra is like that too. She’s locked behind walls, and from her prison, she energizes us.” We kept quiet and we thought. It was such a correct observation.

In the past year, there have been many initiatives, exhibitions, readings… You know, it’s not easy to move the original works to exhibit them. It requires a certain budget for room, conditions and especially transport, and most of the time it is galleries or institutions that can afford it. However, from the beginning of the campaign, several requests came from organisations, more humble associations, who wished to bear witness to your drawings and paintings. We then looked for a solution that could also apply to them, and we found it. We prepared “kits”, with good quality prints of the works, but also with, in the box, presentation documents, postcards, and videos with subtitles on a USB stick. With this solution whose transport is so simple, the exhibitions of the reproductions could take place in various countries and cities, and it continues…

Angers, Tour Saint Aubin, January 11 2018

The original works, after Douarnenez, Angers, Morlaix, are now being prepared, in their widest layout, for the Festival of the Other Worlds which will take place in Brittany, in September and October. Then, Rennes, London, Brescia, Barcelona, Basel are next… As for the reproductions, they visited Graulhet, Detmold, Vienna, Rennes, and will meet the public at already defined appointments, in San Sebastien in the Basque Country and in Saint Pierre des Corps, in the center of France, near Tours. There are other exhibitions under discussion.

All these appointments are published on your website, zehradogan.net in the “Exhibitions” section. Just like the “Press” page which is updated every 24 hours, on which you will find all the articles that concern you, in all languages.

Your postcards, which accompany the exhibitions, are also displayed during writing workshops and reading evenings, carried out in solidarity everywhere. Some of the maps you received from unimaginable countries, towns and villages began their journey from these modest support organizations. And others have brought you the messages of people who have written with sensitivity, privately. Your letter of thanks, and the fact that some letters and envelopes became support for your drawings, touched and moved us a lot…

During your exhibitions, we had the chance to observe the reaction of the public live. We have witnessed some incredibly moving moments. Some of the thousands of visitors who attended your exhibitions were regular visitors to art exhibitions, and some came without knowing who you were, what you were the witness of. Others had already heard your name, wanted to know more, or those who were part of an informed audience, wanted to learn more. The common point between all of them was their feeling, once in front of the works. Almost all of them made that clear. The majority of these thousands of people did not simply visit the exhibitions as art lovers, but had a long discussion with the friends present in the rooms, they asked, spoke, learned, studied… It is there that the power of art is shown, in an almost tangible way… A drawing can say much more than a hundred words, because it directly reaches the heart. You know that…

There is another remarkable thing… Sometimes people who didn’t know each other at all could arrive at an exhibition at the same time, totally by chance. During the visit, in an infallible way, they begin to exchange and communicate. And strangely enough, they go through the same steps. First, in front of the strength and the expression of the works, they remain a moment in silence. Then they start asking questions. “Who is Zehra?”, “Why is she in prison?”, “What exactly is this work about?”, “What happened?”. Then, a feeling of guilt awakens. “All this is happening today, right in front of our eyes, and we don’t know it! How is that possible?” When they are told that the lack of information is not their fault, and that, in fact, the information exists but that in order to find it, we have to guess its existence and look for something other than what is served in general, this feeling of guilt disappears and leaves its place to another question: “Now we know it. What can we do?”. The affected people then understand that they in turn can inform themselves, at their level, around them, and also, by messages of support, tell you that you are not alone.

And they go out, leave the exhibition, in a way that warms the heart, by discussing among themselves. We sometimes observe that these people entered the exhibition without knowing each other, but they then stay on the sidewalk for a long time, and continue to talk to each other, like old acquaintances.

At the exhibition in Angers, one of the most touching experiences was the visit of a group of mentally handicapped people who came with their educators. Although months have passed since then, we cannot forget this visit. It has remained engraved in our memories, by its intensity… When the educators came with their group, they told us this: “We are not here by chance. We did a lot of work upstream, on confinement, imprisonment, isolation. Then we came to see Zehra’s works. And it is not over, we will continue to work on it.” Then there was the visit. It was a long one.


For one hour, the visitors observed the paintings, one by one and expressed their feelings. Their vocabulary and expression may have been limited, but their perception was impressive. Sometimes, like an arrow that starts from the bow, the “little and concentrated” have the art of pointing the essential. After the thoughtful and silent glances, the words that resonated under the vault of the Saint Aubin Tower, were “black”, “sad”, “suffering“, “hard”… We felt there, that we were facing the truest visitors of this exhibition…

And then there was this “Vulcan” butterfly, with eyes on its wings, born like magic, in the middle of winter, in the gallery, and which went straight to sit on all the paintings, and on that of Kemal Kurkut, killed on the day of the Newroz festival, celebrating spring. The loop of fire, life and death closed again, we remained breathless.

READ ALSO Zehra Doğan has been in jail for one year

These are just a few examples… After seeing how the hearts of the people visiting the exhibitions joined yours and connected, we can easily imagine moments of the same intensity that could have been experienced in other exhibitions where we could not be present…

Don’t tell us things like “I feel embarrassed for everything that is done”. Don’t you dare! First, all these things are just drops that fall into a huge ocean. And also, if it is a question of thanking, in truth, it is we who owe you thanks. For the lesson of resistance you are giving us, the prisoners of the outside world. For putting us in motion, with your dignity. For making us think, with your questions…

Of course everyone does what they can, their best, but nothing is easy, and everything is far from perfect…

Of course, not everyone is “candy and honey”. You know very well that humanity brings its dark face wherever it goes. We also meet in these times and places where we must walk shoulder to shoulder, behind the smiling faces crossed on the road, oversized egos, bad intentions, opportunism, and jealousy. But these cases are so few that we can count them on the fingers of one hand and they get lost in the mass of people forming one big heart. Even if these malevolents harm for a short time, they quickly get drowned in the force of human fusion, and, like shadows, disappear.

Because the raw material of what is called solidarity is the human being, my dear Zehra…

We, here, locally, give impuslsion, try to make means available, and we tell everyone, “Go ahead! Do, we are ready to give logistical support”. It is the people, who roll up their sleeves and get creative and enthusiastic about it. They are the ones who bear your testimony, your art and your words, who tell what must be told. Everything, whether it is an organized initiative, a shared video, a published article, whether it is the words of support reaching you, or the postcards shown during a chat between neighbours, everything, really everything, is part of solidarity. In these people who appropriate themselves solidarity, there are people of all ages, all backgrounds, all peoples…

Some known artists communicate with their art, other ordinary people spread the light on the truths, radiating around them. Small and large lights illuminate the horizon as they do during the day. It is exactly from this that comes the strength of this solidarity campaign conducted around you for more than a year. All these people tell you, and to all prisoners: “We hear you. Maybe we don’t speak the same languages, but we understand you and we speak about you.” They are telling tell you, “You are not alone.”

I greet you all with affection and sincerity. I hug you with all my strength.

Translating by Lougar Raynmath
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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.