Dur­ing an exhi­bi­tion of some 40 orig­i­nal works by Zehra Doğan in Jan­u­ary, the big ques­tion of ‘’Art or not Art?’’ was posed.

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The ques­tion was posed, in front of my very eyes an into my very ears, by an impor­tant gen­tle­men armed with the lat­est top-shelf iPhone, a blue fold­er and a grey lap­top. After hav­ing begged him­self a place at the table I was sat at, this ‘’Impor­tant’’ gen­tle­men, who pre­sent­ed him­self as some­one ‘’doing cul­tur­al work in Brus­sels’’ (a Euro­pean film fes­ti­val was tak­ing place there the same week), said to me straight off the bat: ‘’it’s pow­er­ful… but it’s not Art”. He then pro­ceed­ed to make a few phone… impor­tant phone calls and to tap away, with earnest, at the key­board of his lap­top computer.

With two sim­ple phras­es, this con­tem­po­rary art big-shot (and deci­sion mak­er accord­ing to his own words), man­aged to nail Zehra’s can­vas­es to the walls of polit­i­cals scrib­blings. I’ve got the feel­ing that what recent­ly hap­pened with a Banksy piece in Lon­don is the best pos­si­ble answer one could pro­vide to such an ‘’impor­tant per­son’’ and to all the ‘’impor­tant peo­ple’’ of so-called con­tem­po­rary Art.

To refresh your mem­o­ries, the Fri­day 5th of Octo­ber in the Sotheby’s auc­tion room in Lon­don, the Banksy piece ‘’Young girl with red bal­loon’’ was put on auc­tion… Quick­ly sold for a priced of $1.8million, the piece was reduced to strips by an impro­vised shred­der built into and hid­den with­in the large frame, under which the work end­ed up hang­ing lam­en­ta­bly. The scene was filmed and Banksy him­self unveiled the action on social media, an action car­ried to avoid to piece fin­ish­ing up on the ‘’mar­ket’’ which Banksy him­self abhors.

It’s of course much eas­i­er to talk about a ‘’bad joke’’ and to empha­sise the fact the piece of art had ‘’thus acquired val­ue’’ rather than inter­pret the artist’s ges­ture as an addi­tion­al denun­ci­a­tion of the ‘’impor­tant’’ tax haven that con­tem­po­rary Art has turned into, to suh an extent as to define Art as a mer­chan­dise sub­ject to finan­cial speculation.

But let’s get back to Mis­ter Europe. If he had have been present at Sotheby’s, he would have sure­ly cried out “It’s pow­er­ful! But it’s Art”, jump­ing thus one step ahead of all the oth­er big-shots and their over-com­pli­cat­ed com­men­taries on the “per­for­mance”. I read some­where a com­ment by a cer­tain Blan­dine de What­sher­name, impor­tant Banksy spe­cial­ist if ever there was one, in which she spoke of the “para­dox­i­cal rela­tions between mar­gin­al­i­ty and com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion in Art.” She con­tin­ued, say­ing “If it’s a sim­ple ques­tion of thumb­ing one’s nose at the Art mark­er, the ges­ture actu­al­ly back­fired giv­en the fact that many spe­cial­ists agree with as Miss Cham­pagne and Miss Lavoie-Dugré, who believe that the hang­ing, shred­ded piece has since gained enor­mous­ly in val­ue.” Close the market!…

So last march, when the very same Banksy paint­ed a mur­al fres­co in sup­port of Zehra Doğan and pro­ject­ed images of the art work which led to her incar­cer­a­tion, was that Art? The mur­al fres­co grabbed quite a lot of atten­tion, and six months lat­er Banksy had it cov­ered over to leave room for oth­ers, and also undoubt­ed­ly to avoid any “com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion” of his sup­port. A let­ter exchange fol­lowed between the two artists, which also caused quite a stir. “Yet anoth­er very Banksy-like ‘move’ “ the big-wigs must have raved and ranted.

In a recent­ly pub­lished arti­cled, and in very many of her let­ters, Zehra, far away from the big-wigs, the Blandines and the What­sher­name de Cham­pagnes, tempts to define that which moti­vates her and to sit­u­ate her­self as an Artist. She has nev­er fre­quent­ed the con­tem­po­rary Art scene in Turkey. Had her free­dom been pre­served, she would have fre­quent­ed even less those tak­ing part in con­tem­po­rary self-cen­sur­ing tak­ing place in Istanbul.

Zehra explains:

By replen­ish­ing myself with the Kur­dish women’s strug­gle, through my writ­ings and my art I work towards puri­fy­ing our soil stained with blood. I wish that all that which has been lived shall not be for­got­ten, blacked out, and that truths attach them­selves to my can­vas­es. That’s why I’m in prison.

And now, here, they don’t give me what I need to draw. Still not sat­is­fied, they con­fis­cate the pig­ments I man­age to obtain from left­over food scraps…as well as my drawings.

But I have no right to use all that to jus­ti­fy my throw­ing in the towel.

My tes­ti­mo­ny proves that I don’t have that kind of luxury.

My strug­gle has taught me that no real obsta­cles exist when it comes to cre­ation. And if such a thing does exist, it would be noth­ing else but one’s self.”

That is the most important.

And nor do we here have the right to use the pre­text that the cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of all things impos­es upon us its mar­ket laws as an excuse to throw in the tow­el, even when it comes to solidarity.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…