Zehra Doğan: "It is not only art that has had boundaries drawn around it in Turkey"

Winner of the 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award, Zehra Doğan is a Kurdish painter and journalist who, during her imprisonment, was denied access to materials for her work.

04 Apr 2019

As an artist, imagine yourself in a city destroyed by war. Can you think about anything other than portraying the destruction you see around you?

“This picture has crossed the line between art and criticism.”

These words belong to the judge who gave me a prison sentence for a picture I painted.

The limits of art, which the artistic world has not been able to agree upon for centuries, have apparently been figured out by the decision of a Turkish court.

It is not only art that has had boundaries drawn around it in Turkey: the things that can be said between friends, the topics you can write about, and the concepts you can debate at school with your students have all been limited by the authorities. And those who reject these limitations find themselves in prison. Journalists who reject these limitations and this “freedom of expression” either lose their jobs, their freedom, or their lives. Women who come out against the repression of the patriarchal order face more difficulties today than ever. The same is true for Kurds who want to express their identities. Kurds who do not fit into the moulds shaped for them by the authorities face house raids, arrests and even death.

Turkey’s prisons are filled with artists, intellectuals and politicians, because we reject these limits forced upon our freedom of expression and we will continue to reject them. There are thousands of prisoners on hunger strike, following the example of member of parliament Leyla Guven. Many are critically ill, please share their story.

Although they are trying to restrict our freedom of expression in the prisons through the books they refuse to give us and the letters they find “suspect”, there are countless inmates who have overcome this situation through their own productivity. I dedicate this prize to them.

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