George Gittoes “Vincent & the Snow Monkey”

By Marcelle Mansour

“Peace and Freedom for Palestine”...When he signed his book for me, he wrote the unforgettable strengthening words [...] “I felt these encouraging words which I usually use in my arts become more meaningful, more motivational and more inspirational than ever.”            Marcelle Mansour

George Gittoes’ exhibition "Vincent & The Snow Monkey" together with his book of “George Gittoes I Witness” were opened and launched on Thursday 31 July at the Art Equity, Sydney;  works that George painted while at the Yellow House Jalalabad. In 2011, Gittoes established the Yellow House in Jalalabad, south Afghanistan in homage to Van Gogh. For Van Gogh, the Dutch artist was the inspiration for the legendary Yellow House collective based in Sydney's Potts Point in 1971, of which Gittoes was a part.

George Gittoes is an Australian renowned artist, photo journalist, and filmmaker. He is considered as an outstanding social realist artist who has spent more than three decades creating documentary arts. His arts inspiration comes from conflicts and upheaval around the world. He has worked in Europe, Africa, Central America Far East, Asia Pacific, Middle East and other places which were all troubled with war. George Gittoes has set up his art on mobile studios and creates works in both traditional and digital mediums. In Gittoes’ own words he is doing this because he wants “to portray the effects on the environment of war, international disasters and heavy industry” and “he goes alone into a different kind of human wilderness – Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza ..Etc– not to contemplate nature, but the basics of humanity..." 

George Gittoes was awarded OAM (1997), the Centenary Medal (2001) and he was given an honorary Doctorate in Letters by the New South Wales in (2009). 
I was fortunate to get acquainted with George Gittoes’ work when I previously attended his art exhibitions that I covered in the An-Nahar Arabic newspaper in1994. I was impressed with his rich volumes of drawings, paintings and handwritten documents which he created to bring awareness of crisis in the Middle East such as Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza.

Today, I was also happy to attend the opening of "Vincent & The Snow Monkey” exhibition. "The art story was created by George Gittoes while he was filming some larks for a documentary about the boys who sell ice-cream on the streets of Jalalabad. George Gittoes came across the vendor Noor Gul, who is a poor man– earning $3 a day from selling ice creams – and who has extraordinary resemblance to Vincent Van Gough. According to Gittoes; “Noor Gul has the red hair, blue eyes and the angular cheekbones of an Afghan warrior class, and is a dead ringer for Van Gogh as the artist painted himself.... If you look at the photographs of Vincent taken when he was alive, he doesn't look like his portraits.'' says Gittoes, who wears his beard and hair long for his security inside Afghanistan. ''Vincent invented the imagery of himself. He painted himself to look like a Buddhist monk. The strange thing is Noor Gul looks more like Vincent's creation than Vincent himself.''

Gittoes filmed Gul's recognition of his likeness in van Gogh's portraits that hang on the walls of the Yellow House compound. Gittoes says on the eve of the exhibition opening. ''I gave [Gul] the same respect as if I was painting Julian Assange or Nelson Mandela. He is so like Vincent.''

This is an extract from Ralph Hobbs, the owner and Director of Art Equity: “The power of Vincent's vision has pulsated like liquid adrenalin through Australia's most extraordinary artist, George Gittoes. An impossible man to pigeonhole, Gittoes' multi-media approach has seen him acknowledged as one of Australia's finest draftsmen and painters. His paintings, photography, films and diaries have documented so much darkness in the world, from Gaza to Iraq, Africa to Afghanistan. Gittoes has witnessed so much in his life, too much pain for most of us to bear yet he has never lost hope....He sees hope where there is none and like Vincent, Gittoes is the patron to the underdog; the tough man with a heart of gold and a message of love. He is making art to change the world and will die making sure that it does. The works in this exhibition titled Vincent and the Snow Monkey are the basis of three intertwined themes that can be seen as metaphors for our world.”

Gittoes’ large abstracts are full of the beauty of nature; his ‘Starry Garden’ was painted with the Vincent and Monet on the artist’s mind. Gittoes' monkeys (Van Gogh portraits) are metaphors for the artist that express humanity, morality and meaning that bring viewers back to the 1888‘s Vincent in Arles and another 2000 years to the era of Jalalabad, Sufism, and Buddhism.  

I felt really privileged to meet with the Artist George Gittoes after a number of years. When he asked me about my relatives who are still living in Gaza under the horror of the current war, he was about to cry, showing empathy towards them for he remembers when he met in Gaza 2002 while creating his documentary work. Gittoes humbly expressed his deep sorrow about what currently happens in Gaza and wished to be there documenting history at this terrible time, but he is committed to go back to Afghanistan soon. When he signed his book for me, he wrote the unforgettable strengthening words: “Peace and Freedom for Palestine.” I felt these encouraging words which I usually use in my arts become more meaningful, more motivational and more inspirational than ever. A kind of precious words that revive my soul in the midst of the brutality of war crisis that Gaza has been living since 8 July 2014. I greatly appreciate George Gittoes as a remarkable personality for he is an artist of world peace and humanity in the first place.

The Exhibition ended with a beautiful piece of music and a peaceful Sufi song titled “Starry Starry Night” performed by Helen, the Afghani vocalist, then refreshments and Champaign were served. The event was very successful for George Gittoes which was celebrated with artists, friends, journalists, and potential buyers. 
“Vincent & The Snow Monkey” runs from July 31 to August 14, Level 1, 66 King Street Sydney

Marcelle Mansour



  1. Thanks Marcelle for this article. Gittoes is indeed a witness of our wars and places forgotten.
    I have the greatest admiration for him and every word of praise about his work or his life makes me happy.
    Remy (also a traveller of these parts)