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Imprisoned Turkish Artist Smuggles Thank You Note to Banksy

Five months ago, the anonymous British artist Banksy and the street artist Borf painted a mural protesting the imprisonment of the Turkish artist and journalist Zehra Doğan on the corner of Houston Street and Bowery in New York. On Tuesday, Banksy revealed that he received a handwritten letter from the artist thanking him for his support.

Doğan was arrested at a café in July 2016 and sentenced to nearly three years in prison for painting the destruction of a predominantly Kurdish town with Turkish flags flying above it. Doğan was on assignment for the feminist Kurdish news agency JINHA when she made the work. According to the Turkish government, the piece was proof of her connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which it considers to be a terrorist organization.

Posted on Banksy’s Instagram account, the two-page letter details the horrific conditions at Diyarbakır Prison where Doğan is being held. “I am writing this illegal letter to you from a dungeon which has a history of bloody tortures,” she wrote. “This letter is illegal because I have a ‘communications ban’ that forbids me from sending letters [and] making phone calls, so I’m writing and delivering this letter in clandestine ways.”

The Turkish painter described the sound of fighter jets and the feeling of learning that loved ones had died. She wrote: “In a moment of pessimism, your support made me and my friends [enormously happy]. Far away from me and our people, it was the best reply to the crooked regime that can’t even tolerate a painting.” Doğan added that her time in prison is worth it because she was able to show the world the reality of life in Nusaybin, the province depicted in her work.

Banksy and Borf unveiled the seventy-foot mural, which depicts a tally of the number of days that Doğan has spent behind bars, in March. The black lines on the stark white background take up nearly the entire surface of the building wall, except for the bottom right-hand corner of the mural where the artists wrote “Free Zehra Doğan.” A lone figure can also be found diagonally left of the text— Doğan’s face peers out from behind the black tally marks. Each of her hands can be seen gripping a line, one of which is a pencil. For several nights, Banksy projected an image of Doğan’s controversial painting above the mural.