Activists protesting the building of the Ilisu Dam in Turkey at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin on Saturday, July 13. Photo: the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive.

Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Detained in Berlin

Artist and activist Zehra Doğan, who was recently incarcerated in Turkey for painting the destruction of a Kurdish city by the military, was detained in Berlin along with several collaborators on Saturday, July 13 for participating in an unauthorized public performance-art piece at the city’s Pergamon Museum.

Doğan, and the artists Juan Golan Eliberg, Aurélie Gerardin, and Thomas Lamouroux, staged the performance in protest of the imminent flooding and loss of Hasankeyf, an ancient Mesopotamian citadel and settlement in southeastern Turkey, due to the construction of the controversial Ilisu Dam. Once the dam, which is located about fifty miles downstream, is completed, it will raise the level of the Tigris River by 60 meters, submerging 80 percent of the 12,000-year-old city, which is home to hundreds of historical sites.

After concluding the performance—for which Eliberg and Lamouroux wore underwear and body paint while chanting, moving slowly, and eventually lying down next to numerous photographs of Hasankeyf that they scattered across the floor—the four artists were taken into police custody. Following an interrogation, they were released later that evening.

According to Doğan, they planned to hold the protest during the opening of the new James Simon Galerie on Berlin’s Museum Island, which more than 13,000 people attended, in order to gain greater visibility. They also chose the Pergamon as their setting because of its extensive holdings of ancient Near Eastern art. Because of the action, the museum has barred the activists from the institution for the next ninety-nine years. They had also carried out a similar performance at the Louvre last month.

Doğan is a founding member of the women’s news agency Jinha. While on assignment for the organization in 2015, she created a painting depicting Turkish forces following a military operation at the Kurdish city of Nusaybin. In the work, smoke rises from buildings that had taken fire and were completely or partially destroyed, and a Turkish flag hangs from the rubble.

Doğan was later accused of circulating terrorist propaganda for posting a photo of her work on social media. She was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison, which led to international outrage. Doğan was released this past February after two years and one month behind bars.