Zehra Doğa, BIGIHÊJ (REACH), 2020, acrylic, coffee, urine, felt pen on canvas, 98 1/2 x 86".

Kurdish Artist Zehra Doğan Wins Inaugural Carol Rama Award

Exiled Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan, who spent nearly three years in a Turkish prison for sharing her artwork depicting Turkish ruins on social media, has been named the winner of the inaugural Carol Rama Award. In addition to receiving $2,400, Doğan will collaborate with the award’s sponsor, Fondazione Sardi per l’Arte, and the Carol Rama Archive Foundation on a 2021 exhibition; her work will also be exhibited in early December as part of the Turin art fair Artissima, the award’s creator.

A jury of international curators voted unanimously to award Doğan the prize, which is named for self-taught Italian artist Carol Rama. The jury cited Doğan’s irreverent approach to gender norms and her inventive use of waste materials and found objects—among them menstrual blood, coffee grounds, kale, and newspaper—in the making of her art as aligned with Rama’s own sensibilities.

A founder and editor of the feminist Kurdish news agency Jinha, which featured an all-female staff, Doğan was imprisoned by the Turkish government on 2017 on charges of “terrorist propaganda” for making works featuring what she described as “Turkish flags on destroyed buildings,” and for posting on social media a painting she made showing the destruction wrought by Turkish security forces on the Kurdish town of Nusaybin. While in jail, Doğan made some three hundred works incorporating the materials named above, as well as crushed herbs and spices and scraps of fabric and cardboard; the works were smuggled out of the prison as dirty laundry and were later exhibited in her first solo exhibition in Turkey, Not Approved. Doğan described the process as “a guerilla strategy.”

Pinuccia Sardi, Fondazione Sardi’s founder, said that the Carol Rama Award “does not set out to be a pact with feminism, but is a way of supporting women artists, who, like Zehra, pursue an ideal of unconventional creativity, of artistic and personal freedom, eluding categories and labels.”

The thirty-one-year-old Doğan was modest about her win, saying she felt she was not yet mature enough to be compared to Rama. “If the jury thought that I deserved such an award,” she noted, “I think they saw that I wanted to walk this path.”