“I have been waging a personal war against war with art for five decades” – George Gittoes
The Sydney Peace Prize is Australia’s only annual international prize for peace. Since 1998, the Sydney Peace Foundation at the University of Sydney has awarded the prize to men and women who made significant contributions to peace with justice, respect for human rights and the language and practice of non-violence. Past winners include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky, Hanan Ashrawi, Xanana Gusmão, and John Pilger. Gittoes is the first artist to receive the prize.
Gittoes has been acknowledged for his role in ‘exposing injustice for over 45 years as a humanist artist, activist and filmmaker, for his courage to witness and confront violence in the war zones of the world, for enlisting the arts to subdue aggression and for enlivening the creative spirit to promote tolerance, respect and peace with justice.’
“At a time when the world is speeding into a new cycle of war” says Gittoes, “it is inspiring the Sydney Peace Foundation values art as a way to help overcome the brutality. The award of the Sydney Peace Prize is a wonderful and unexpected honour”.
Gittoes’ peace activism evolved through his work as a painter, film-maker and photojournalist. He chronicled conflicts in Nicaragua, Somalia, Cambodia, Western Sahara, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Bougainville, East Timor, South Africa, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. In 1995 Gittoes witnessed the massacre of thousands of Rwandans at a displaced persons camp where they had sought protection from UN peacekeeping forces. It inspired his painting The Preacher, which won the 1995 Blake Prize for religious art.
Now 65, the Rockdale-born Gittoes spends about half his year in Afghanistan at the Yellow House Jalalabad helping local Afghan artists create in the midst of conflict and at great personal risk from the Taliban. The Jalalabad house takes its name from the studio in Arles where Vincent Van Gogh shared briefly with Paul Gauguin and was the inspiration for the Potts Point Yellow House artists’ collective that included Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley and Gittoes that began in 1970.
Art historian Dr Rod Pattenden says “His images pry open the door to a conversation about what it means to be human at the very limits, where petty myths, tired illusions and worn-out symbols collapse. This is the dare at the heart of his practice – to activate the imagination rather than fear, and to create hope in the face of chaos.”
“I feel privileged to have been able to spend much of my life creating beauty in the face of the destruction of war” says Gittoes. “I have been waging a personal war against war with art.”
Gittoes’ work is included in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Power House Museum and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Mitchell Fine Art Gallery will host a major exhibition of his works from 27 July to 20 August, 2016.
George Gittoes, Mirrow & Awliya II, 1996, 168 x 260cm
George Gittoes, Love City Jalalabad, 2013, still