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Zehra Doğan

Venue: KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Zehra Doğan

Born 1989 in Diyarbakir, TR – lives and works in London, UK

The year 2015 will be remembered as a critical point of no return in Turkey’s tumultuous political history: after the AKP-led government unilaterally cancelled long-awaited talks with Kurdish politicians and aldermen on resolving the Kurdish conflict, the pro-Kurdish HDP party won representation in parliament by passing the required ten percent election quota. Soon thereafter, calls for regional autonomy by young Kurdish initiatives were met with an illegal lockdown in southeastern Turkey, during which the Turkish army, special police forces, and paramilitary killed hundreds of people, including civilians, forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, and destroyed major Kurdish cities and their historical neighborhoods.

Zehra Doğan, a Kurdish artist, activist, and journalist who cofounded the feminist press agency JINHA, witnessed firsthand the unprecedented violence unleashed by the lockdown. As JINHA’s activities were banned along with other independent, critical media, Doğan decided to create a painting of the agony she had observed and felt. Based on an image showing Turkish flags on destroyed buildings in Nusaybin, her painting portrays the accompanying Turkish military vehicles as scorpions. The image had been widely circulated on social media by accounts supporting the military operation. This led to Doğan being imprisoned, accused of creating “terrorist propaganda.” In prison, she began to work on a graphic novel in Kurmancî Kurdish in a style recalling dengbêj narrative forms, an ancient tradition of oral storytelling in Kurdish society used to communicate history across the generations and keep the mostly unwritten language alive. As an act of commemoration, the novel relays the witnessing that brought her to prison and her conversations with other political inmates, all of which is contextualized within the historical background of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey that began in 1980s—in prisons where many Kurdish intellectuals and activists were brutally tortured. Doğan’s graphic novel is a greeting sent to the thousands who worked for peace and the resolution of the Kurdish conflict—as elected MPs, mayors, human rights activists, and journalists—and are currently incarcerated in Turkish state prisons.

Övül Ö. Durmusoglu

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