Italian artist Fabiana Simonelli drew a portrait of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been detained under strict isolation on Turkey’s Imralı Island for 22 years. Simonelli shared her thoughts with Yeni Özgür Politika about her inspiration for drawing the portrait, her thoughts about Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish freedom struggle.
Simonelli met with the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan and the reality of the Kurdish people in the 1990s. She was already in contact with the Kurdish institutions in Rome those days, but after Öcalan visited Rome she became much more aware and interested in the Kurdish question.
“I was visiting a friend of mine, who lives at the Syrian border of Turkey. And it was then I learned that the book I reading during my trip was itself grounds for arrest in Turkey. It was Öcalan’s book,” she smiled. This was the first time she learned about the books of Abdullah Öcalan.
‘Even though walls seperate us, we could feel him’
The two concepts that Öcalan covered in the book had affected her a lot. “His definition of walls and borders were very interesting and his ideas have been reaching to us through his heart. Even though there are walls that separate us, we could feel him,” she said.
Simonelli wrote, “No walls can prevent us from reaching into his heart,” under her Öcalan portrait.
Transformation of pain to power
She portrayed a photograph of Abdullah Öcalan taken in Imralı Prison. But why did she especially choose that photo?
“There is a man in that photo and his humanity. Someone who loves his people. That is why I choose that picture,” she replied.
“Being the charismatic leader of the Kurdish People, Abdullah Öcalan, and the expression on his face had driven me to do something. Then I decided to make the portrait. Maybe I will never be able to grasp the whole meanings of his expressions, but what I see when I look at his face is the transformation of pain to power.”
‘Walls are the most terrifying tools of violence’
Simonelli states that she can never be able to understand what it means to live under isolation for 22 years. She refers to a writing of Sandro Bonvissuto on being a ‘captive’.
“Walls are the most terrifying tools of violence that exist in this world. It was never developed because it was already created perfectly,” she quoted. “Each day in your cell, you can touch it with your nose and look very close to it, but you can not see it. It does not touch your body if you do not touch it. It does not give you direct pain but it gives you painful feelings.”