Newspaper archives

Kiosk, Gorki Theatre, Berlin, 2021. (Photo by Ute Langkafel)

Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden individual exhibition, “To each Age its art –To Art its Freedom”.

Memories imprinted in reality

When I was imprisoned, I knew a hard period lay ahead, but I could not have guessed all the hurdles I would encounter artistically.

I had just stepped out of a great war. For a whole year, I practiced journalism in the town of Nusaybin, under constant bombings, encircled on all sides by thousands of soldiers, and where thousands of homes were destroyed and burned down.

Once all this was over, I attempted to pull out secretly from these ruins, and just as I was telling myself “saved, at last”, I was caught. I was not the only one to be arrested. I went into prison then, bearing in my heart the memories of hundreds of my comrades who had resisted against war and lost their life for this cause. I wasn’t alone inside either… Because, upon arrival, I was embracing people I had not seen in a long time. I knew most of them from the war period, I had interviewed them all. So I did not feel.disoriented.

Shortly thereafter, I started painting again and writing articles on the violations of rights to which the prisoners were subjected. At first, I was allowed art supplies, I was legally entitled to them. But the attention paid to my work on the outside had increased. Because I was one of the imprisoned journalists, but also now an artist thrown in prison because of a drawing. The hurdles increased then, already in 2016, in Mardin prison. So I had to find other ways…

One of them was through the Kurdish press tradition – Özgür Gündem and Azadiya Welat – that could still “enter” prison, even if their distribution was often thwarted under various reasons of censorship: I was a journalist from the feminist JINHA agency, the entire team of which was made up of women and whose aim was to provide information “centered on women”. And, in those papers we could follow and read more or less, the “women’s pages” took their material from the information provided by our JINHA agency.

I then started drawing portraits of my prisoner friends on pages from these newspapers. These were solid, resilient women, each with her own story of resistance.

This work combined both of my trades, journalist and artist… I was making art, but I was not disconnected from the discipline of journalism…

It was also a work of archiving. Not of the one who goes to the venue where events took place but, on the contrary, of one that is embedded in the event, immerged in it, who is a part of it…

Thus, when I created based on reality, I was always one of the people living it as well. This principle, this ethic, matter greatly to me in my artistic creation.

In 2017-2019, I continued this project begun in Mardin prison in the prisons of Diyarbakır and Tarsus.

At first, the prison authorities did not react to this work done on pages of newspaper. Then, the newspapers I was using as ground were censured and forbidden for spreading “terrorist propaganda” and a part of my works were confiscated, I can’t recall how many.   

I was then forced to find other means in order to work in secret, and to get these works out of prison through clandestine means. I found these means.

What you will find here are works that managed to escape from prison, the expression of a collective success.

You will not find those which prison authorities considered “dangerous”, confiscated and declared as “destroyed”.

But I suspect that you also see those that are invisible. They were works that were created in order to be destroyed, and to be constantly re-created. What they destroyed, I created anew. What is that, if not a performance which extended for close to 3 years in prison?

Zehra Doğan

Translated by Renée Lucie Bourges

“Clandestine Days” 2017, Istanbul

Diyarbakır Prison 2017-2018

Europe today…