Artist, author and jour­nal­ist Zehra Doğan will have spent the past five years with the smell of blood con­stant­ly in her nose, the blood drench­ing the lands where she was born.

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Kedis­tan met her in the begin­ning of 2016 through one of its con­trib­u­tors who had struck up a friend­ship with her dur­ing the Gezi events in Istan­bul. Zehra had answered our ques­tions from Nusay­bin. The siege and the destruc­tions of that town led to her denun­ci­a­tion, arrest and impris­on­ment in Mardin. Pri­or to that she had been one of the rare jour­nal­ists to doc­u­ment the kid­nap­ping, rapes and mur­ders of Yazi­di women by ISIS Jihadists. The bud­ding Roja­va project held no secrets for her, and she is deeply frus­trat­ed now that she can­not go back to Kobanê.

Dur­ing her first peri­od of impris­on­ment on her lands in the Mardin jail, she allowed her­self the cre­ation of a prison news­pa­per with her do-detainees since “all the jour­nal­ists were in jail”. Call­ing on her tal­ent as an artist she also doc­u­ment­ed these 141 days in jail thus pro­vid­ing the basis for a first exhi­bi­tion. Dur­ing her sec­ond impris­on­ment, pen­i­ten­tiary author­i­ties for­bade her access to artis­tic sup­plies and mate­ri­als. She then entered a peri­od of resis­tance and pro­duced an abun­dance of works based on that very rarity.

In the mean­time she had migrat­ed toward Istan­bul for a clan­des­tine peri­od while await­ing her defin­i­tive sen­tenc­ing. There also, she cre­at­ed an abun­dance of works, archiv­ing the pre­ced­ing years filled with exac­tions, crimes and mas­sacres com­mit­ted by Turk­ish armed forces in the vil­lages and towns of Turk­ish Kur­dis­tan. She calls these works “the clan­des­tine peri­od”. We had titled them “escaped works”, close to 50 of them which, with her approval, the Kedis­tan Asso­ci­a­tion had exfil­trat­ed from Istan­bul, tak­ing advan­tage of the trip of an art pub­lish­er as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so. Along with her diary, pho­tos of these works were com­piled in a book that is now out of print.

But Zehra, through the pow­er of her art, of her words and of her pen­cil, was the will­ing vic­tim for the wide shar­ing of the con­tin­u­ous suf­fer­ing and per­se­cu­tions of the Kur­dish peo­ple. Thus was born the project of exhibit­ing her works in Europe as much as pos­si­ble, as repro­duc­tions or orig­i­nals Kedis­tan con­tin­ued to con­tribute in exfil­trat­ing, with the help of her rel­a­tives and friends, and of travellers…This wan­der­ing phase of her works and of her words began in earnest in 2017, when the book came out, copies of which came in con­tact with the pub­lic most­ly dur­ing exhi­bi­tions or “Evenings for Zehra”. At the same time, a reg­u­lar cor­re­spon­dence also large­ly allowed the read­ing of her prison writ­ings. The print­ing of post­cards also meant she received hun­dreds of mes­sages of sup­port, month after month.

Of course, the ant-like work per­formed by Kedis­tan would have been lost in the desert had it not been relayed by so many sup­port­ive peo­ple and encour­aged by inter­na­tion­al asso­ci­a­tion, such as the PEN club at first and the numer­ous sup­port com­mit­tees that sprung up. While pri­or to this, Kedis­tan had also pro­vid­ed a mod­est sup­port to writer Aslı Erdoğan – thus learn­ing how to set up the logis­tics of a cam­paign and required net­work­ing and mate­ri­als, we had every­thing to learn in the domain of art, while get­ting as close as pos­si­ble to the numer­ous Kur­dish rep­re­sen­ta­tives here for these initiatives.

We still recall the first appear­ance of a large size por­trait of Zehra with oth­ers, in front of the Turk­ish embassy in the Nether­lands, held up by defendors of human rights. The strength of social net­works and of the Web helped all those numer­ous but dis­persed sup­port ini­tia­tives, as they fed one anoth­er. And we love the image of the beat­ing of a but­ter­fly­’s wings and that of the bird car­ry­ing thoughts of free­dom. Zehra Doğan her­self had drawn it from the depths of her jail cell. And what can we say about the giant Banksy mur­al and Ai Wei­wei’s let­ters?

© Zehra Doğan. “KUŞ KADINLAR” (Bird Women) 150x142 cm. Ball­point pen on sheet. 2019, Tar­sus Prison.

Why summarize in this way these past years where a strong solidarity was slowly built up around Zehra Doğan?

A fun­da­men­tal­ly polit­i­cal sol­i­dar­i­ty since, as she says her­self “I will nev­er work accord­ing to the codes, I don’t know how to do it”, mean­ing by this “mean­ing­less” art and con­stant self-cen­sor­ship with which she does not want to be associated.

It is pre­cise­ly because today Zehra is free, at least phys­i­cal­ly, that the time has come for the but­ter­fly­’s wings to set­tle. The explo­sion of exhi­bi­tions, of var­ied and numer­ous sol­lic­i­ta­tions in her direc­tion and the num­ber of ways open­ing up for her voice and her art, are beyond our lev­el of competence.

Feel­ing free is not sim­ple for Zehra Doğan.

Nor is it sim­ple for Kedis­tan to think and to say that a page is being turned and that these works that were for­mer­ly exhib­it­ed as archives of the Turk­ish regime’s exac­tions are now cov­et­ed by the art mar­ket. This para­dox is not real­ly in keep­ing with Kedis­tan’s rea­son for being. Our work as appren­tice-gal­lerists will stop here. Fif­teen of her works have already been incor­po­rat­ed in the col­lec­tions of French nation­al muse­ums, via the Mucem in Mar­seille, includ­ing that rep­re­sent­ing Kemal Kurkut, and we con­sid­er that this is a choice loca­tion for it.

The exhi­bi­tion end­ing in Paris at l’E­space Femmes, just as the mag­nif­i­cent one of 60 of her unpub­lished works at the San­ta Giu­lia Muse­um in Bres­cia, Italy, along with the one at New York’s Draw­ing Cen­ter were all cries raised against the impris­on­ment and per­se­cu­tion of the Kur­dish peo­ple, along with sup­port for Roja­va. Zehra will have to strug­gle with the demons of the art mar­ket so that the rest will respect her nar­ra­tive, her word and her cry of obsti­nate defense of the Kur­dish peo­ple. More pro­fes­sion­al sup­port­ers will sure­ly be avail­able to her. At this lev­el, Kedis­tan is no longer competent.

Zehra now has a future before her

And no one can doubt she will live it ful­ly. And if they are not the “fine days” as in the title of her prison writ­ings pub­lished at Edi­tions des Femmes, they will undoubt­ed­ly be “great days”.

We thus want­ed to close the spe­cial dossier on Kedis­tan. You can fol­low the links here. What will remain is a vig­i­lant and unshake­able friend­ship. The beat­ing wings have set­tled, the heart­beat remains.

Along with so many thanks to all those who sup­port­ed, accom­pa­nied, relayed and encour­aged, aid­ed and pro­longed the actions, and all those whose paths we crossed along the road. Thanks go out also to the ones greater than us who con­tributed to the sol­i­dar­i­ty. Too bad for those who under­stood noth­ing from the out­self and who go on spec­u­lat­ing. They know who they are.

Final­ly, a sin­cere thanks to all the medias now tak­ing up the relay, those on the left in France still ignor­ing her or busy exam­in­ing their own navel and their nec­es­sary audi­ence… They did not dis­turb us and that’s just as well. There are also those jour­nal­ists who aid­ed the sol­i­dar­i­ty who have the hon­or of hav­ing prac­ticed their trade.

Cov­er pho­to: Zehra Doğan’s paint brush­es. Pho­to Claude Cantat.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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