An Afternoon with George Gittoes At the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies




By Marcelle Mansour

On Thursday 12th November 2015, I was fortunate to be invited by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) to attend the event of “An Afternoon with George Gittoes”, which was held at the CPACS Centre at the University of Sydney. 

George Gittoes AM is a distinguished Australian and International Visual Artist of War and Peace, Photojournalist and Film Maker, who has been awarded the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize on Tuesday 10 November at Sydney Town Hall. “Australia’s only international peace award, “for exposing injustice for more than 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.” The 2015 Sydney Peace Prize Jury’s citation stated. “The Jury felt his unique approach to peace building and social justice should be recognised and applauded.”

The Master of Ceremony was performed by Mr Mujib Obid. George Gittoes gave an interesting talk about his journey as the war and peace artist. He started his talk holding his Angel of Peace puppet, and then he spoke about the conception and the significance of his art and the conflict with brutality that has shaped his work. Particularly in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan where Gittoes has survived war, death threats and a pet monkey where he has established the Yellow House Jalalabad (YHJ). 

George Gittoes: “Art proved that creative people create things rather than destroy stuff. So all my life I've been going to war zones. I saw the destruction of Baghdad, I've seen the destruction of Gaza and all this destruction through war and for me it's been enough just to create in the face of it, to be making stuff.”

George’s speech was followed by Q & A with the help of his partner, Helen Rose, a talented singer and actress from Sydney, who shared George answering some of Q & A dialogue with the audience.

In my turn, I made a short spontaneous unwritten speech and a poem about my experience of special friendship with the artist George Gittoes over the years, and the following is graphically what I said: 

“Good afternoon everyone: I feel privileged to day that I am invited to meet the great Artist George Gittoes together with his partner the amazing Vocalist and Performer Artist Helen Rose. I would like to thank the Committee Members of (CPACS): Dr Wendy Lambourne-Deputy Director and Post Graduate Research, Dr Ken Macnab-President Council, Juliet Bennett-Executive Officer, Katie Pokorney-Acting Executive Officer; for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.    

I have known the amazing Artist George Gittoes since the late 1980s and early1990s when I was a regular contributor to the An-Nahar Australian Arabic newspaper as a journalist and a weekly communist. When I came across his name in the English newspaper, I visited his art exhibition where I first met him and I wrote about him and introduced his arts to the Arabic speaking communities. I still remember his incredible art exhibition titled “The Realism of Peace“at S. H. Ervin Museum and Art Gallery in 1996 where I accompanied a group of Australian Lebanese and Palestininan community members to view his artworks and to listen to his marvellous talk, where we realized that Gittoes witnessed war conflicts and destructions in Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza/ Palestine and other countries.  

At that time we both displayed in a group exhibition at Barry Stern Gallery, Paddington. Then I invited the Artist George Gittoes to the Australian Palestinian Club where he commended my community artworks of the Past, Present and Future triptych that depicts the story of the Palestinian cause, 48 Nakba and Diaspora. In1998 I had a nicely written article about my work, titled “Paintings from the Heart”, by the Art Historian and Critic G. Dalton, in my book of Shifting Waves p5. In 2002 George Gittoes headed to Gaza my birthplace where he was embraced by my relatives who coincidently were the point of connection.” 

Then I said: “George Gittoes is totally a complete hero, he was exposed to death and threats all his life. I know for sure that he has a strong faith, where he always creates artistic Guardian Angel moppets; and there is no doubt that God amazingly protect him from all harms.”  

Last year I attended George Gittoes Art Exhibition of ‘Vincent and the Snow Monkey’ and his book launch titled ‘George Gittoes I Witness’ on 31 Jul 2014 at the Art Equity Gallery where he signed for me his unforgettable words “Peace and Freedom for Palestine”.  

The Palestinians are still living under the horror and terror of the Israeli occupation for 67 years and the peace process’ failure is persisting for 21 years with only bloodshed and hatred from both sides which offer no logical resolution in ending the occupation and war or making peace with justice. The United Nations designated 2014 to be the ‘International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.’ 193-nation body had expressed the hope that, by now, the State of Palestine would be a sovereign and independent Member State of the UN. The majority of the world is on the side of justice with Palestinians, but not "power of veto" nations. Israeli Ministers are totally and permanently against a Palestinian State. This rejection does not count as ‘Justice’ or “Human Rights’. I had my ‘Threshold’ art exhibition and seminar of light and perception last week at the Parliament of NSW, and I explained how we creative artists highlight the notions of humanity, freedom, peace and justice in our work so that we may laid the foundation for modern critical political thought by working on changing the mentality of politicians who lead the world nations so that they may cross the threshold of transformation towards recreating the reality of our world.  

Therefore, George Gittoes’ words are just perfect of what we want to happen: “Peace and Freedom for Palestine.” Today I would like to congratulate the artist George Gittoes on receiving the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize and to present him with the portrait I have painted of him that is accompanied with my poem. This is my tribute to the amazing artist George Gittoes.” as follows:

A Cry Out for
“Peace and Freedom for Palestine”
These unforgettable glorious words
Are so precious and worthy to be voiced
To be heard by all the leaders of the world
What the Australian Artist George Gittoes wrote
When he signed his book for me with his heart of gold
‘George Gittoes I Witness 
The extraordinary Artist of Peace and Anti-War
Who documented the history and revealed the truth
Wishing Peace and Freedom for Palestine and All
Marcelle Mansour, Thursday 12 November, 2015
At the end I spontaneously pulled a ‘Kofeyye’ Palestinian scarf out of my handbag and proudly put it on around George’s neck, reading what it says: ‘Return to Jerusalem.’ Coincidently my tiny hair brush hooked with the scarf and George humorously asked me to comb the knots on his hair which I pretend doing it. George Gittoes certainly has a great sense of humor that makes him survives the brutality of war he witnesses around the world. George said he will be hopefully heading to Palestine very soon.
The event ended with gathering for refreshments and drink, socializing and networking. It was a good afternoon with a wonderful insight into an amazing creative world of peace. 

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