Kurdish Artist Painted In Jail With Menstrual Blood

Story By: James KingSub-EditorDarko Manevski, Agency: Clipzilla

The work of Kurdish prison artist Zehra Dogan when she was in a Turkish prison that was made using hair, sheets, menstrual blood or indeed anything else she could find has gone on display in her home country for the first time.

The tragedy is that the recognition of her work among her countrymen is something she could not be present for, because she fears if she returns to Turkey, she will be jailed again.

Zehra Dogan, 31, is a Kurdish artist, journalist and author from the city of Diyarbakir, in Turkey’s south-east.


Dogan was sentenced to a total of 2 years and 9 months in prison between 2017 and 2019 for “terrorist propaganda” when she shared news stories and artworks about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organisation.

One of the paintings, which she shared on social media, depicts the destruction of the town of Nusaybin in southeastern Turkish city, Mardin, following clashes between state security forces and Kurdish insurgents.

Dogan finished her two prison sentences and was released from prison in February last year, after which she left the country.


Since then she gained international fame after holding a show at London’s Tate Modern.

In an interview with digital news outlet Kedistan, Dogan talks about her experience of leaving her home country.

She said: “The sensation of separating from a place is quite a heavy matter. If you leave in conscience, because of your will to leave, that is one thing, if you do it by obligation, it’s quite another. I left by obligation. Had I stayed, I would have been arrested again for other files opened against me.”


Dogan made various paintings during her time in prison using her hair, sheets and pillowcases, menstrual blood and anything else that she could find.

Dogan spoke about some of her most polemic pieces saying: “What I’m expressing here, rather than something related to politics, is the fact that I am not in repentance mode as a woman. I can no longer stand social gender roles constantly generating regret for events that happen to us.

“In creating this work in prison, on a prison bed, I wanted to create a metaphor. This bed also exists once we are outside. They have always imprisoned us with this bed.


“We women, when we have our period, we do not even want to see our own menstrual blood. These damned gender norms have made us find our own body secretions disgusting.

“How is it that this liquid linked to humanity’s procreation is considered so disgusting?

“Accursed women objecting and struggling for women, being forced to regret their actions. I remove myself from this bed by refusing to be their incubator, I stand letting my blood drip down and saying ‘I am Zehra, I have no regrets for this bed.’ “


Dogan’s exhibition ‘Nehatiye Ditın’ (“unseen” in Kurdish) can now be seen at the Kıraathane Literature House in Istanbul until 9th November.

The show is made up of the artworks she created whilst in prison and it is the first time this work will be displayed in Turkey.

Curator M. Wenda Koyuncu said: “The artist creates hybrid narratives by altering traditionally embroidered towels from her mom with fruits, tea, coffee, waste and menstruation blood, using brushes made of her hair and writing utensils.


“She had to give new spirits to each object from her mother, friends and lawyers, with a tough and resilient stance that reinvented them,”

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