Banksy Returns to New York with a Tribute to Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan
By Nisan Igdem
England-based graffiti artist Banksy’s latest work was unveiled in New York last month. It is the first work Banksy has created in New York since 2013. The mural, which is almost twenty-two meters long, appears on the corner of Houston Street and Bowery, commemorating imprisoned Turkish artist Zehra Doğan.
Zehra Doğan, a Turkish-Kurdish artist and journalist, was sentenced to prison for two years and ten months in March 2017 because of her painting of Nusaybin, Mardin. The painting depicts Nusaybin in ruins with Turkish flags on the buildings, underlining the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in the area. In her defence, Doğan mentioned that people who are responsible for the destruction should be in jail, not someone who simply painted the facts: “They made this painting, not me”.
On the anniversary of Doğan’s imprisonment, Banksy, with the collaboration of another graffiti artist Borf, who has also spent time in prison for his art, created a giant mural in Manhattan with tally marks representing each day Doğan has spent in prison. Doğan’s face can also be seen behind a quartet of marks signifying prison bars. On the left corner of the mural, the words “Free Zehra Doğan” can be read. Above the mural, Banksy projects the artwork done by Doğan every night to show people why she is in prison. In the statement, Banksy told the New York Times, “I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence”.
The wall on which Banksy chose to create his artwork was not an arbitrary choice. The Bowery Wall was first painted by Keith Haring in 1984. Since then, it has been commissioned to other street artists in rotation, including Os Gêmeos and JR. It is not a surprise then that Banksy’s return to New York City is on this wall. The last time he was in the city was five years ago, when he created artwork in four of the boroughs.
Doğan’s imprisonment is unfortunately not the first, nor the last. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey holds the record of having the most journalists in prison since 2016, all of them facing ‘anti-state’ charges. As a reaction, there are massive worldwide movements to free the journalists. In Zehra Doğan’s case, the organisation The Voice Project, with the motto “Defending Freedom of Expression. Supporting the Art of Activism”, has started a letter-writing campaign on their website. There is also the hashtag #FreeZehraDogan that can be used in multiple social media platforms.
Cascone, Sarah. ‘Banksy Returns to New York With a Powerful Tribute to Jailed Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan’, Artnet News, 16 March 2018. (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/banksy-returns-new-york-bowery-wall-1246226)
Chow, Andrew R. ‘New Banksy Mural in New York Protests Turkish Artist’s Imprisonment’, New York Times, 15 March 2018. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/15/arts/design/banksy-mural-new-york-zehra-dogan.html)
‘Free Zehra Doğan’, The Voice Project, 2017. (http://voiceproject.org/takeaction/free-zehra-dogan/)
‘Turkey's Crackdown Propels Number of Journalists in Jail Worldwide to Record High’, Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 December 2016 (https://cpj.org/reports/2016/12/journalists-jailed-record-high-turkey-crackdown.php)
Perwana, Nazif. ‘Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack’ in Artnet News, 24 March 2017. (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/painter-zehra-dogan-sentenced-to-jail-for-artwork-902015