The latest work by anonymous British artist Bansky, a 70-foot-long (21 meters) call for the government in Ankara to release Kurdish journalist and artist Zehra Doğan. was unveiled on Thursday in New York City.
Doğan was sentenced last March to more than two years in prison for her painting of the Kurdish town of Nusaybin, which was partly destroyed during clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants.
Banksy’s work joins the chorus of international voices calling on autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop imprisoning Turkish writers, journalists and intellectuals, which has been ongoing since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
According to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW), the gigantic mural covers the building’s whitewashed facade with stark black hash marks that represent both time spent behind bars as well as the bars themselves. Doğan’s face appears behind a set of hash mark-cum-prison bars, with her left hand grasping one line that is a pencil. The words “Free Zehra Dogan” appear in the mural’s right-hand corner, a call that Banksy repeated on his official Instagram account when posting a photo of the work.
“Sentenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture,” the artist’s caption below the online photo read.
Banksy also posted the watercolor for which Doğan was jailed, tagging the official account of President Erdoğan. The image shows Nusaybin with insect-like tanks and a giant scorpion consuming people against the backdrop of bombed-out city. After posting her watercolor on social media, Doğan was arrested for alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization. Those charges were dropped, but she received a jail sentence for her art.
Her watercolor was projected above the mural on Thursday evening. “I really feel for her,” Banksy said in an interview with The New York Times. “I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence.” Doğan has yet to hear about the mural, Banksy’s publicist told media.
The Bowery Mural Wall, on which Banksy painted the protest work, has been used regularly over the years by artists like Keith Haring for large-scale art.
Since the failed 2016 coup, Erdoğan’s government has arrested many Turkish journalists and intellectuals and purged civil servants and military officers from their jobs.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.