You can’t make strip search, I’m already naked


That punishments in general and that prisons belong to a political technology of bodies, is something history has taught me less than the present has.”

Michel Foucault, Keeping Watch and Punishing

The body is searched the way a pocket would be, the gloved hand going from the mouth to the genitals in an order coded by the procedure. Honor is thus preserved for the executioner, the humiliation of the body becomes an administrative matter, done in order to satisfy the State order. The punished one will know henceforth that his or her intimacy also belongs to the State to which he or she owes obedience.

In those societies where, for women, there still exists the “control of the hymen”, there will then be the double sentence, and the reminder that the control of the body induces a morality to be followed.

At the end of the 18th century, with the appearance of a brand new judiciary institution, there appears a new architecture that breaks with the dungeons and cellars, at the same time as fades the inquisition, strappado and various other tortures. The Age of Enlightenment gives birth to an architectural model of the prison known as the “panopticon”.

The aim is to allow the guard, located in a central tower, to keep an eye on all the prisoners, locked inside cells surrounding the tower, without the latter knowing at what moment he or she is truly being observed. This structure thus gives the detainees the feeling they are constantly watched, without knowing precisely when this is the case. The spyholes on the gangway belong to the same system. Michel Foucault, the philosopher and historian, in “Surveiller et punir” in 1975 (Keeping Watch and Punishing) uses it as the abstract model of a disciplinary society based on control.

Turkey will adopt this architecture more recently at the end of the 20th century, while maintaining blocks where prisoners are crammed together while it builds new venues for imprisonment. It will long maintain its practices of torture, however, along with strip searches that have remained a generalized practice in the East as well as in the West, and on every continent.

Even migrants, asylum seekers, are subjected to strip searches when arriving in Europe. And for them, this experience of a physical “search” continues under other guises, turning into a psychological strip search because they are constantly under surveillance, controlled and dispossessed of the decision concerning their own status. Many are fleeing such controls they experience in their flesh, in addition to exile.

This spyhole turns you into a Peeping Tom, one where a body is placed under orders. Why?

The strip search is a degrading practice for the detainee. In it, the body is shown not as that of a person, but as an object to be searched. Its repetition, breaks down self-identity, as does a uniform.

It puts the unprotected detainee in the hands of a guard and at his or her total discretion. It is often used as a means for breaking down resistance.

Zehra Doğan herself was subjected to three strip searches, one during her detention at 17 in Diyarbakır, then more recently in Mardin and in Nusaybin. The prisoners are regularly subjected to this practice, particularly before transfers (to the hospital, for example, or again, before a visit from their relatives). For instance, in the prison in Tarsus, (prior to her deportation there in November 2018) Zehra Doğan’s co-detainees held a 40-day hunger strike against this practice. This action brought results. Strip searches are no longer practiced in this prison. This is exceptional as the practice continues elsewhere.

Beyond this, the prison regime regulating the life of the detainees did not spring forth out of nothing. Returning to Michel Foucault for a moment, he deconstructs how this prison model, supposedly based on bringing the detainee back to “the straight and narrow”, and not simply meant as a punishment, is in fact a social allegory.

Our societies have become sophisticated surveillance societies. A screen replaces the spyhole. The surveillance camera provides the images and facial recognition is compared to the files. These days, China is pushing this process to its heights, but all of our societies are currently building their “social order” on this panoptical surveillance.

The model prison does not exist, the prison serves as the model.

Zehra Doğan

Translation : Daniel Fleury / Lucie Bourges

Cell 1
Cell 1 inside
“Hey soldier; you can’t make strip search. I’m already naked”
30 x 26 cm / 72 x 22 cm. Feminine underwear, ballpoint pen, hair. 2018 Diyarbakir prison.
Cell 2

This installation was first shown in Zurich in November 2020 at the exhibition “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, curated by Adam Szymczyk.

You can’t make strip search, I’m already naked

Zehra Doğan

Video: Naz Oke
Performance: Harun Arslan
Photo: Melanie Hoffman

Thanks to Hiwa K.