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Dec 01 2020

Kurdish Artist who made works in prison Receives Inaugural Carol Rama Award

by Ariana Heffner

A portrait of ZEHRA DOĞAN. Photo by Hoshin Issa. Image via Instagram.

On November 19, Turin’s contemporary art fair Artissima announced artist and journalist Zehra Doğan as the winner of the inaugural Carol Rama Award, which recognizes female creatives at the fair who embodied the same spirit of artistic freedom as the late Italian artist Carol Rama (1918–2015). Doğan received a cash prize of EUR 2,000 (USD 2,400) as well as a residency at Rama’s Turin studio, sponsored by Fondazione Sardi per l’Arte.   

Diyarbakır-born Doğan founded and wrote for the feminist Kurdish news agency Jinha before it was shut down in 2016 by Turkish authorities. In March 2017, she was charged with “terrorist propaganda” by the Turkish government after she posted to Twitter a drawing of the Turkish military’s destruction of the Kurdish-majority town of Nusaybin. She was later sent to prison for incitement of terrorism for two years and nine months. While imprisoned, Doğan produced 300 paintings with materials such as crushed herbs, menstrual blood, coffee grounds, and scraps of fabric and cardboard, depicting her fellow inmates along with imagery from Kurdish mythology. Through her works, Doğan continues to explore the ongoing conflict between Turkish and Kurdish armed groups. In her recent painting, Kurdistan 2 (2020), she depicts a naked female figure with ropes tied around her feet painted over a map of the geo-cultural territory of Kurdistan. 

Speaking of their unanimous choice, the jury commented that Doğan was chosen “because of the striking power of her work to translate a strongly situated experience,” and also her commitment to the transmission of “unconventional idea of creativity and artistic freedom,” in alignment with that of Carol Rama.

Since Doğan’s release in 2019 she has exhibited her paintings from prison, most recently in her solo show “Not Seen” at Istanbul’s Kiraathane from October to November. 

The Sardi per l’Arte Back to the Future Prize was established in 2014 by Pinuccia Sardi’s Fondazione Sardi per I’Arte to recognize galleries with the best booth presentation at Artissima. In 2019, following the acquisition of Rama’s residence and studio by the Fondazione Sardi per I’Arte, the foundation has decided to change the name and focus of the award to honor the self-taught painter. The jury committee for the inaugural award included Luca Massimo Barbero, director of Istituto di Storia dell’Arte della Fondazione Giorgio Cini; Bart van der Heide, director of Bolzano’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; and Kathryn Weir, director of Naple’s Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina.

Ariana Heffner is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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