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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.