Zehra Doğan imagines the future: it is 3219 and art is a crime. Mirrors are banned. States who provide welfare to their citizens are brought before the European Court of Human Rights. And a country that imprisons its artists makes more and more money from tourists…
The footsteps were approaching. Every step shook the ground. It sounded like they were really close. She had to finish her task before they came.
A foggy sky, hard to see; an unknown place, an unknown language, an unknown identity. No one understood one another. But everyone was speaking. Everyone way trying to impose their values on one another, even though they didn’t understand each other.
Some gave up, stopped being themselves and stepped into different bodies. Others rejected what was being imposed. But really, everyone was small, weak, controlled by an unknown force. Occasionally, one person dominated another and celebrated this victory in a bloody way but in reality, they were all just toys. Now and then they forgot that they were toys and dreamt of another life but soon enough those dreams were stopped with a click on the most cruel button of the control panel. Their rage grew each time their dreams were interrupted, and they attacked those weaker than them. So they could forget about reality.
The year is 3219. In an unknown country, the sun is high in the sky, scorching even in the winter time. Here, it is always very hot in winter, so that it is hard to even breathe. Like every other country, this one is known for its beautiful sights. With its bombed buildings, destroyed museums, imprisoned artists, mass graves and nonstop shelling, it looks particularly heavenly.
This particular country gets more beautiful every year by killing, and by being killed. Although it attracts many refugees – thanks to its unbearable living conditions –, it still manages to remain unsafe. Even as the smell of corpses on the ground burns people’s throats, the country attracts more tourists. More tourists bring more money. And thus the person who holds the controller becomes more powerful.
The footsteps don’t stop. Scorpions are hissing in every corner. A timid heart is beating under the rubble. It beats faster as the footsteps approach. She’s covered in sweat – a result of fear. No one knows how long she’s been hiding there, in this dark well. A scorching sun above, sun on the ground, and scorpions, with their ugly feet, leave their marks on the snow. With every footstep she hears, she works faster: She is desperate to finish what’s in her hand before they arrive. She is a tiny woman; her hair sweeps over her breasts with every move. The fear of being caught is clear in her eyes. Blood is dripping from between her legs. This is how she paints: she rubs her hand against her vagina, drawing what’s born out of her onto paper and thus giving birth. Her life would be over if she was caught.
In this unknown world that she lives in, art is the biggest crime. It destroys the order of the world. It is annoying, it scares people, it kills tourism. People are afraid of going to places where there’s art; the ones who go there don’t ever come back. As a result, whenever there’s an art alarm somewhere, countries issue travel warnings for their citizens. The most dangerous country in this regard is a small country with unknown lands and unknown peoples. Although it has a high level of prosperity compared to many others, it just can’t get rid of art actions. It is frequently criticised for its wealth, it has lost many cases in the European Court of Human Rights for providing welfare to its citizens; the politicians who argue that their country is anti-democratic just continue providing wealth to their citizens, they don’t feel any shame. But, for an unknown reason, the unknown people in this country revolt all the time and stubbornly make art whatever the price. The tiny scared women is one of them. She obtains illegal paints, and despite the home raids and her police record she keeps on painting, using turmeric, tomato paste, coffee, ash, fruits, vegetables and rubbish.
‘She fouls the world with every painting, someone must stop her. Look, she’s even using her menstrual blood. She puts her hand between her legs and paints with her fingers, nonstop. This woman tells us that we’re beautiful! Without shame! No, she’s beautiful, she’s doing the worst thing by making the world more beautiful, this must be stopped. Or else the world will become a more beautiful place.‘
It was an era when art was destroyed because it was dangerous. People didn’t recognise themselves or each other: they led the murky lives of people who don’t know themselves. No one wanted to hold a mirror up to one another. They were afraid of scaring each other. They were so much in the mud that if someone objected, that person would be regarded as criminals. The ones who protested reminded them of their own dirt. Because mirrors were the most dangerous invention of all times. If someone was found to have a mirror at home, they’d be killed on the spot. No one wanted to see themselves in the mirror; they had a dangerous magic, and the ones who looked went mad and started to protest against the system. That was why all the states regarded mirrors as the most dangerous weapons.
But one day, the tiny woman had found the only mirror in the world. She hid and started drawing what she saw with her blood. She gave birth from her blood and mirrored life. She painted her hope, so that maybe, one day, people would wake up.
Zehra Doğan (born 1989) is a Kurdish artist and journalist from Diyarbakir, Turkey. She is a founder and the editor of Jinha, a feminist Kurdish news agency with an all-female staff. In 2017, she was sentenced to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days in prison for ‘terrorist propaganda’ because of her news coverage, social media posts, and sharing a painting of hers on social media. Her imprisonment prompted international outcry, including a 2018 mural by street artist Banksy in New York. She was released from prison in Tarsus on 24 February 2019. She has recently taken part in exhibitions and performances in the Tate Modern, London, and the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Follow her on Twitter.
This text was translated by Onur Erem.