Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Kiosk, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, 2021. (photo by Ute Langkafel)
Drawing Center, NY 2019-2020
From left to right: Incile, Fistan (on the wall) Ayşe’s dress, Nalin.


Dress with prison’s sheets, sleeves with ethnic shawl, tail collage, household linen (bundle), laces on the front, drawing with ball point. 2016, Mardin Prison

“İncile” is the name of another fellow inmate friend of Zehra. An older one, she’s part of the “Peace Mothers” movement.

Ayşe’nin elbisesi” (Ayşe’s dress).
Dress sewn with prison sheets, embroidered with threads obtained by unknitting a sweater, ballpoint pen. February 2019, Tarsus prison

Ayşe’s dress

For Ayşe, 3 years old, imprisonned with her mother, in Tarsus prison.

“Ayşe was constantly asking us for a pretty dress. I thought of using bedsheets to make her one… We dipped the sheet in javel water to lighten the color. We measured the little one, cut the fabric and sewed a custom-made dress. A friend’s pullover provided the thread to stitch the embroidery. After which, I did drawings of the child prisoners…”  

A little girl, clinging to the iron bars of the window, talks to the birds behind the barbed wires: “Birds! Come and get me. Take me to the trees!” A child who can’t tell all this with words. Yet, she already knows words she shouldn’t. “I can’t go with the birds, I’m incarcerated here.” 
Her mother was released in May 2019. Ayşe is free too. She spent a long period of adaptation, crying, to see the “aunts” of the prison again, to “go back to the quarter” that she called “home”… She’s fine now. 
In Turkey hundreds of infants are imprisoned with their mothers. These children do not know the smell of grass, of the earth, cannot touch a single tree, they grow up in difficult and inadequate prison conditions, deprived of what they need.
Naz Oke

Fistan (Dress). On the fabric of a dress sent by Zehra’s mother, prohibited felt pen. December 2019, Tarsus prison.

Fistan (Dress)

Since the prison administration forbids art supplies, my family and I have found another method. My mother sent me a dress in the quota of authorized clothing. My friend Sozdar managed to smuggle in a felt point pen. All this was a rather difficult process, but that much more exciting for that very reason.  
I unstitched the dress and worked on the fabric I attempted to depict war in this work. While I was working on it, Mother Sisê, an 86 year old woman with whom I share the same block, kept on crying, repeating “the war never stops and we keep on dying all the time.
Once the work was done, I managed to re-sew the dress and smuggled it out, mixed in with dirty laundry. 

Nalin. On the fabric of a dress sent by Zehra’s mother. 2019, Tarsus Prison.


(Nalin: First name of a fellow inmate friend).

“I was arrested, I knew Nalin and many other women like her. When they saw me drawing, they liked what they saw. When they saw I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen drawing, they said: “So art isn’t just a matter of a bunch of pretentious know-it-alls.” This also shows the horror of cultural elitism that has developed and is still current. This view of art, as if it were a high and elitist discipline, comes from all these presumptuous, boastful and jargon-filled morons. Arrogant people who are afraid to leave their living rooms, they are like real glasshouse plants. The more I think about it, the more it annoys me. It’s because of those kinds of morons that people look at art as something divine. Come on, but what is art? It’s a means of expression. And neither technique nor freedom of expression can be reserved to just a few. But alas, because of all these idiots, people are apprehensive about art.
I am sure that Nalin creates much better than many established artists. I am sure that her experience, her moods, her knowledge, are better reflected in her expression. When she was in the prison of Şakran, her poetry notebook was confiscated during a search. It contained the entire poetry book  she wanted to have published but they confiscated her work. She then filed a lawsuit. But the tribunal agreed with the prison administration. She didn’t give up and asked the prosecutor. The prosecutor told her,  “I read your poems. They don’t contain anything related to the illegal organization. And I liked your poems very much, but the court decided to destroy them.” They burned her notebook. When she talks about it, she is deeply sad. “They burned it, but they couldn’t erase them from my memory,” she says. Now she’s rewriting them, we transcribe what she still remembers. She has difficulty reading and writing, so we help each other.
As for her work of poetry in Kurdish, written while she was in exile, she had entrusted it to a friend from whom  she never heard  again. A few years later, she saw in a poetry magazine that one of her poems had been published, signed with that person’s name. But that’s not all. She had been working on a screenplay. She had managed to get her text out of prison. And it was lost by the publishing house! She went through a lot of things like that. Then she stopped everything. But sometimes she still creates poems. She says them out loud and a friend writes them down. We’ll see how it turns out. If she perseveres, something may come of it. It doesn’t matter. The main thing is that a human being creates despite everything, loves art, makes the efforts, and contributes to creation in prison”

Letter of 3 February 2019

Excerpt from “Nous aurons aussi de beaux jours – écrits de prison”, (We’ll also have good days – prison writings),  published by Editions des femmes, October 2019. Page 293 -294. English translation, Renée Lucie Bourges.

Toqa Lanetê (Overflowing of the malediction) 230 x 135 cm. Felt pen, hair, menstrual blood. Tarsus prison 2018.
Fistan (Dress) The dress sewn by my mother. Coffee, prohibited paint. 2018, Diyarbakır prison.
Krasê Yadamin (My mother’s dress) 230 x 135 cm. Felt pen, coffee on dress. 2018, Tarsus prison.

T-Shirts drawings

Gözlem (Observation)
(Front side) 62 x 47 cm. Tea, ballpoint pen on t-shirt. June 2018, Diyarbakır prison
Gözlem (Observation)
(Back side) 62 x 47 cm. Tea, ballpoint pen on t-shirt. June 2018, Diyarbakır prison
Speak in Turkish speak a lot
43 x 70 cm. Felt pen on t-shirt. 2019, Tarsus prison.

In Turkish prisons, the Kurdish language was banned for many years. In the visiting areas there were signs: “Speak Turkish, speak a lot”. Conversations are always listened to and monitored. The families, especially the elderly who did not speak Turkish, could not communicate with their relatives whom they visited.

Ez Hevalim (I am comrade)
62 x 50 cm. T-shirt, coffee, ballpoint pen. 2018, Diyarbakır prison.
Untitled. 70 x 40 cm. T-shirt, ballpoint pen. 2018, Diyarbakır prison