In Brief

Imprisoned Kurdish Artist Pens Thank You Letter to Banksy

Banksy posted a letter written to him by Turkish-Kurdish artist and political prisoner, Zehra Doğan.

An image of the Banksy mural with the original image circulated by official Turkish social media accounts (all images courtesy the author for Hyperallergic)

Turkish-Kurdish artist and journalist,Zehra Doğan, has penned a letter of thanks to British street artist Banksy regarding the recent mural in New York that drew international attention to her case. Doğan was imprisoned in 2016 partly for painting an image of the destruction of the Kurdish-majority city of Nusaybin by Turkish government forces. Doğan painted an image of Nusaybin in ruins with Turkish flags flying above. The painting was based on an image circulated by the Turkish military via social media. The artist was arrested on July 21, 2016 and she was accused, on the basis of her journalism and social media posts, of illegal “organization membership” and “propaganda for the organization.”

This letter comes four months after the mural, jointly created by Banksy and street artist Borf, which appeared on the Bowery Wall in New York City. The large artwork included a tally of the number days (273) she had been detained at the time, an image of the artist behind bars, and the words “Free Zehra Doğan” underneath rotating images of the original Turkish military image and Doğan’s painting.

Zehra Doğan painting of Nusaybin that landed her in hot water. (all over the internet)

The news of the mural reached the artist in prison, where she reports it gave her conviction and courage. She writes that with Banksy’s support, “ … my painting now accomplished its mission of showing the atrocities.” She added, “ … now, I say ‘This painting was worth my time in prison because I managed to show the reality of Nusaybin.’”

She mentions that the mural and associated media attention has encouraged her to attempt new paintings. “I couldn’t imagine that my painting will be projected in a city like New York. I spend 12 hours a day imagining and this is even beyond my imagination,” she writes. “I feel stronger and now I’m painting Afrin.”

Afrin is a Kurdish-majority region of Syria that was overtaken this year by Syrian Rebel forces heavily aided by the Turkish military.

Banksy posted a translation of the letter to his Instagram earlier today:

Dear Banksy,

I’m writing this illegal letter to you from a dungeon which has history of bloody tortures, in a town with a lot of bans, in a denied country. The letter is illegal, because I have a “communications ban” that forbids me from sending letters of [sic] making phone calls so I’m writing and delivering this letter in clandestine ways.

First of all, I’d like to tell you about the atmosphere here, We [sic] were getting furious because of the horrible sounds of dozens of fighter jets that depart for bombing our beautiful lands, mountains and cities. We know that every fighter jet is killing our sisters, brothers, relatives and animals in a short distance.

It’s very hard to describe the feeling of reading that someone you know is killed from the newspapers, nearly every day. It was a day like this we heard that the daughter of a friend in our prison was killed in Afrin. The same day, we learned that another prisoner killed herself by “hanging herself with a shoelace”. [sic] It was a day full of deaths. In days like these, one can’t endure living. During our daily debates, we were saying “No one sees that we are right and we are being crushed, destroyed by massacres. Even if they see, no one does anything and everyone stays silent. We are living a lie in a fictional life”. [sic]

Moments later, a friend got the newspapers that are delivered and we saw your artwork about Nusaybin and me, that protests the whole imprisonment. In a moment of pessimism, your support made me and my friends here enormous happiness [sic]. Far away from me and our people, it was the best reply to the crooked regime that can’t even tolerate a painting.

What makes this country, that slaughters the people who stand up against oppression, fears [sic] the most is showing the reality just like a mirror to them. And with your support, my painting now accomplished its mission of showing the atrocities. I was surprised when they accused me by [sic] “Leading the people to rebellion, rage and hatred” because of my painting. But now, I say “This painting was worth my time in prison because I managed to show the reality of Nusaybin.”

People hear me more than ever and while the rulers in these lands that speak the same language with me (because they forced us to learn Turkish) doesn’t [sic] understand me, the people in different lands that speaks [sic] different languages understand me. Art is a meaning of communication far beyond language.

I can’t thank you and Barf [sic] enough. I couldn’t imagine that my painting will be projected in a city like New York. I spend 12 hours a day imagining and this is even beyond my imagination. I feel stronger and now I’m painting Afrin.

Because it’s worth it.
Zehra Doğan

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