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Despite also being a col­lat­er­al vic­tim of the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, Berlin’s Bien­ni­al is car­ry­ing on with this fall opening.

This 11th edi­tion of Berlin’s Con­tem­po­rary Art Bien­ni­al is thus demon­strat­ing resis­tance and, in fact, con­cen­trat­ing a part of its exhi­bi­tions to inter­na­tion­al artists whose pens, eyes and tongues are far from silent.

Our friend Zehra was thus a log­i­cal choice for this 11th edition.

Although a num­ber of pub­lic “per­for­mances” have been can­celled, sev­er­al exhi­bi­tions are tak­ing place in four dif­fer­ent venues in Berlin in one of which Zehra Doğan reveals to the pub­lic the 103 orig­i­nal draw­ings of a “prison graph­ic nov­el” done in clan­des­tin­i­ty dur­ing her over two years of impris­on­ment. This work will be pub­lished as an album in a French ver­sion in ear­ly 2021 by Edi­tions Delcourt.

The orig­i­nals exhib­it­ed in Berlin, under the title “Xêzên Dizî” (The Hid­den Draw­ings in Kurdish)done with the unpre­dictable sup­plies avail­able in prison where Zehra was for­bid­den the use of art mate­ri­als, are drawn on wrap­ping paper in the for­mat of the long let­ters she received from her friend and con­fi­dante, Naz Oke. This cor­re­spon­dence of over two years’ dura­tion was pub­lished in France by Edi­tions des Femmes, under the title Nous aurons aus­si de beaux jours at the end of 2019. It is avail­able in bookstores.

Photos Kedistan
  • zehra dogan berlin biennale

The writ­ings and draw­ings com­bine to pro­vide a descrip­tion of the carcer­al uni­verse in Turkey and bring his­tor­i­cal con­text to the Kur­dish, strug­gle and that of women, while also pro­vid­ing the tale of a dai­ly life, undoubt­ed­ly dif­fi­cult yet filled with solidarity.

The sto­ry­board, each draw­ing of which escaped, one by one, from prison N° 5 in Diyarbakır, known as the “Amed Gaol” tell the tale of the decades of Kur­dish resis­tance car­ried out with­in its stone walls. Thus, this Bien­ni­al will also shed light on the his­to­ry of the Kurds of which a num­ber are now in exile in Ger­many. (Venue: KW Insti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art, Berlin).


Pri­or to the Berlin Bien­ni­al, at the end of 2019, Zehra Doğan’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was sol­licit­ed for a col­lec­tive exhi­bi­tion in New York at the Draw­ing Cen­ter on the theme of Art as resis­tance to impris­on­ment. Among oth­er items she exhib­it­ed there dress­es drawn and paint­ed in prison which what­ev­er she had on hand, and which were then smug­gled out as laundry.

  • zehra dogan

Those years of pro­hi­bi­tion which were years of resis­tance through Art for Zehra, most­ly col­lec­tive­ly with her co-detainees, final­ly brought her to pro­duce over 400 works on many dif­fer­ent media, using extreme­ly var­ied mate­ri­als, includ­ing the use of men­stru­al blood which brought her addi­tion­al “con­cerns”.

This sto­ry­board, the paper of which recalls the clan­des­tine news­pa­per pro­duced dur­ing her pre­vi­ous incar­cer­a­tion in Mardin, is thus an inte­gral part of Zehra Doğan’s orig­i­nal work and serves as a doc­u­ment record­ing the acts of resis­tance by pris­on­ers, the major­i­ty of which are Kur­dish, in Turk­ish jails and, like all oth­er prison pro­duc­tions else­where, illus­trate wom­en’s strug­gles. On this score, the exhi­bi­tion held in Bres­cia (cat­a­logue avail­able in Ital­ian) which will move this fall to the PAC Con­tem­po­rary Art Pavil­ion in Milan is also an inte­gral complement.

Mul­ti­form, artist Zehra Doğan, the Kur­dish jour­nal­ist and woman, tire­less­ly con­tin­ues her work for women, for Kur­dish eman­ci­pa­tion, and and so noth­ing will be forgotten.

She con­sid­ers Art that delves on the inti­mate as a weapon of mas­sive denunciation.

And what a weapon! For those who have fol­lowed Zehra’s artis­tic path for the last 4 years, one can say she has built with her works an entire sec­tion of Kur­dish con­tem­po­rary Art and, beyond that, resis­tance art plain and sim­ple, far from the emp­ty ges­tures of Art with no grounding.

Host­ing Zehra in an impro­vised work­shop and watch­ing her relent­less work for ten days, see­ing and film­ing hours of cre­ation of large scale orig­i­nal works she was prepar­ing end of July for an Ital­ian exhi­bi­tion in Milan orga­nized by Prom­e­teo Galery, put the fin­ish­ing touch­es, if these were still required, to our belief in her strength as an artist, her huge tal­ent and her deter­mi­na­tion to let her voice car­ry along­side oth­ers in the Art of resistance.

  • Zehra Dogan biennale
    “Bigihêj” (Attein­dre), Zehra Doğan, Juil­let 2020, Angers. (Prom­e­teo Gallery. Milan) “Bigi­hêj” (To Reach) Zehra Dogan, July 2020, Angers. (Prom­e­teo Galery.Milan)

Exhib­it­ed in Europe and in the Unit­ed States since 2016 with her “escaped works” or those of her “clan­des­tine peri­od”, sup­port­ed by peers such as Banksy or Ai Wei­wei while she was still in prison, Zehra Doğan now mea­sures the recog­ni­tion she finds in artis­tic cir­cles with­out hav­ing to sell her­self to the high­est bid­der nor hav­ing to dis­guise her strug­gle in favor of Kur­dish women. With her head filled with projects, her nomadic agen­da through Europe will lead her into many oth­er meet­ings where she will hold forth on her fem­i­nist strug­gle, her human­ism and her undy­ing attach­ment to her Kur­dish home­lands.

Kedis­tan will always stand by her side to keep you informed, because of the ties of friend­ship between us and because main­stream media, notably in France, always look elsewhere.

This par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 11th Edi­tion of the Berlin Bien­ni­al is thus the sign of many more to come, each time with sur­pris­es. To be continued…

zehra dogan berlin biennale Berlin's Biennial

Pho­to : Barış Seyitvan

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.