The 11th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art began on Saturday in Germany.
The Biennal’s theme is “The crack begins inside”. Feminist and political art from around the world will be exhibited in numerous venues until 1 November.
Kurdish artist and journalist Zehra Doğan’s graphic novel about torture, suffering and solidarity of women in Turkish prisons is one of the exhibits.
It includes ‘The Hidden Drawings’ [‘Xêzên Dizî’] that were made using charcoal pencils on one hundred and three sheets of letter paper that were sent by a friend to Doğan during her jail term.
As an artist, Doğan focuses on the political conditions and life of women. During the ‘democratic self-administration’ resistance in Northern Kurdistan in 2015-2016, Doğan had reported from Nusaybin and Cizre.
She became a first-hand witness to the unprecedented violence that was caused by the military curfews and the military sieges.
Since the activities of JINHA together with other independent and critical media were banned in Turkey, Doğan decided to create a ‘picture’ of the suffering she witnessed.
Her painting is based on a photograph showing Turkish flags placed upon destroyed buildings in Nusaybin. Turkish military vehicles are depicted as scorpions.
Because of this painting, Doğan was arrested and imprisoned in July 2016. She was charged with “membership” and “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Five months later, she was acquitted of the charge of membership in a terrorist organization. However, in June 2017, an appeal court upheld the first-instance sentence of two years, nine months and twenty-two days in prison for her activities in social media and “terrorist propaganda”. She was imprisoned again, first in Diyarbakir(Amed), and then in Tarsus with twenty other women. She was released in February 2019.
Zehra Doğan became known worldwide through a huge mural by British street artist, Banksy, when he protested against her imprisonment in New York. The approximately 20-metre-long artwork showed a tally sheet representing the days of her imprisonment, which at one point also represented a prison gate.
Exhibited in Europe and in the United States since 2016 with her “escaped works” or those from her “clandestine period” – and supported by peers such as Banksy and 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 favour of Kurdish women. With her head filled with projects, her nomadic agenda through Europe will lead her into many other meetings where she will highlight the feminist struggle, her humanism and her undying attachment to her Kurdish homelands.
Who is Zehra Doğan?
Zehra Doğan is a Kurdish artist and journalist and author from Diyarbakır (Amed), Turkey. She is a founder and editor of JINHA, a feminist Kurdish news agency with all-female staff.
In February 2016, Doğan moved to and began reporting from Nusaybin. On 21 July 2016, she was detained at a café in Nusaybin and then incarcerated on 23 July in Diyarbakir prison. On 2 March 2017, she was acquitted of the charge of “belonging to an illegal organisation”, but was sentenced to two years, nine months and twenty two days in jail for her news reporting and for posting a painting on social media.
“I was given two years and almost ten months [jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, the [Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it”, she wrote on Twitter following her sentencing.
Her agency JINHA was shut down on 29 October 2016 by Turkish authorities, one of over 100 media outlets shut down since the failed military coup in July 2016.