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Arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Left, on Octo­ber 16 2020

Exhi­bi­tion in the Lam­brate neigh­bor­hood in Milan, “Beyond”, a per­son­al exhi­bi­tion by Zehra Doğan, at the Prom­e­teo Gallery until Novem­ber 15.

Zehra Doğan is a young Kur­dish artist, born in Diyarbakır, the largest town in Turkey with a Kur­dish major­i­ty. In 2016, she was arrest­ed because of a tweet: a draw­ing of the town of Nusay­bin destroyed by the Turk­ish army’s scor­pi­ons. There was no accu­sa­tion but Zehra was pro­nounced guilty of “ter­ror­ism”. The regime is ter­ri­fied by this petite young woman with long black hair as smooth as ebony, armed to the teeth with some of the things that most fright­en those hold­ing author­i­tar­i­an pow­er: art, imag­i­na­tion and truth.

Zehra is forced to live in prison for over two years, where she paints, and when her paints and her paper are tak­en from her, she con­tin­ues with what­ev­er she finds; cof­fee, tea, left-over food, hair and even men­stru­al blood and urine. She paints on every­thing she can find, on wrap­ping paper, sheets, tow­els, news­pa­per. And her art for which she was arrest­ed finds a way to escape beyond the prison walls.

  • Zehra Dogan

Today, Zehra is “free” but few of her prison friends are, and her coun­try, Kur­dis­tan or Turkey, are not free either. And forced into exile in Europe, she can­not return to her home­land. But her art, as heavy as the earth, con­tin­ues to fly light­ly on the wings of a but­ter­fly, above the mean-spirit­ed­ness of those in pow­er and of repres­sion, defy­ing Erdo­gan’s fascis­tic and author­i­tar­i­an regime and denounc­ing to Europe the mas­sacre of the Kur­dish people.

ZD femmes

Zehra Doğan “Fish Woman”, 100 x 78 cm. Acrylic, col­lage on can­vas. 2019 London.

The works exhib­it­ed in Milan, all recent, are absolute­ly pow­er­ful, at once both vio­lent and frag­ile. Hang­ing on the walls, they are the ones nail­ing us to the truth and to the West­ern world’s respon­si­bil­i­ty for choos­ing not to look, despite us. Most­ly, the wide open eyes of these women with the fixed­ness of immo­bile and hier­at­i­cal Byzan­tine icons of a far-away past, rise up like a cry of denun­ci­a­tion, both pow­er­ful and painful.

Even more that the real weapons they car­ry on their naked and muti­lat­ed bod­ies, their eyes are their most pow­er­ful ones. “Look at me, my peo­ple are dom­i­nat­ed, my land is razed, I am not free to live in peace, my body is humil­i­at­ed, invad­ed, con­quered, pos­sessed. But my eyes are free. Free to tell and to denounce to the world the tragedy of my peo­ple, through the pain of my moth­ers, my sis­ters, my daughters.” 

Now, Europe must open its eyes…

*P.S.: in 1937, André Bre­ton wrote that Fri­da Kahlo’s art was like “a rib­bon sur­round­ing a bomb”. In a very dif­fer­ent way, Zehra Doğan’s art has some­thing of the same spir­it: a weapon wrapped in a rib­bon of ori­en­tal silk.

Eliana Como 


eliana como
Eliana Como 
She is a CGIL unionist and the animator of a FB page dedicated to women painters.
You can find her on facebook at @chegenerediarte

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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