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New Banksy Mural Demands Release of Jailed Turkish Artist

A mural by Banksy with the words “Free Zehra Doğan”—a Turkish artist and journalist who was sentenced last March to nearly three years in prison for painting a Kurdish region of Turkey destroyed by the country’s security forces—was unveiled on Thursday evening on the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in Manhattan. The seventy-foot work depicts jail bars in the form of marks tallying the days Doğan has spent in prison, with her face peering out from behind one of the cells. Her hand grips a bar that doubles as a pencil. On Thursday night, Doğan's painting was projected above the mural, along with the words “Sentenced to 2 years nine months and 22 days in jail for painting this picture.” 

“I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence,” Banksy told the New York Times. On Instagram, the anonymous British artist shared Doğan's work, encouraging his followers to protest her imprisonment by reposting her painting and tagging Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alongside the hashtag #FREEzehradogan.

Authorities detained Doğan in July 2016, claiming that her artwork demonstrated her involvement in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the government. In her watercolor painting, Turkish flags jut out from the smoking rubble of a destroyed city. Thousands of artists, cartoonists, and cultural figures were among the 35,000 people detained and later released by the government following Turkey’s failed military coup in 2016. Since the coup attempt, Erdoğan has become increasingly totalitarian, and last Friday a Turkish court sentenced twenty-four journalists to prison, claiming they have ties to terrorists who want to overthrow the president. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists declared that Turkey held more journalists in prison than any other country.

The mural, made in collaboration with graffiti artist Borf, was one of two new Banksy works revealed in New York on Thursday; the other, depicting a stenciled rat, was added to the clockface of a former bank in Greenwich Village slated for demolition. 

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