Australian artist George Gittoes at his studio in 2007. Gittoes has been announced as the winner of the 2015 Sydney peace prize. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP
Australian activist and war artist George Gittoes has been awarded the 2015 Sydney peace prize.
The jury recognised the Sydney-born 65-year-old “for his courage to witness and confront violence in the war zones of the world”.
Gittoes said the award was welcome recognition that “creativity is the opposite of war”.
Over 45 years, Gittoes has used painting, film and photos to record conflicts in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, covering every major conflict since Vietnam, including those in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda.
But he told Fairfax Media in 2007, Iraq was the one war he felt he couldn’t escape.
“I am not the sort of artist who produces wall furniture,” he said then. “People ask me why does an artist have to go to war? I ask them why aren’t more going to war? This is the biggest conflict we have known in modern times.”
Gittoes even made a film – Rampage – from the American “war zone” on the streets in Brownsville Subdivision (Brown Sub) in Miami. He followed a soldier, Elliot Lovett, whom he had met in Iraq making his 2003 film Soundtrack to War home to the neighbourhood Lovett said was “more dangerous than Baghdad”.
“When I first arrived in Brown Sub, I had already travelled in Humvee convoys with Elliot in Iraq,” Gittoes told the Guardian in 2006. “So when I arrived in Miami and I saw Elliot’s brother Marcus arrive with his convoy, I immediately felt comfortable. This was, I realised, a military section where everyone is watching everyone’s back.”
George Gittoes directing in the street in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in June 2014. Photograph: George Gittoes/AAP
“George Gittoes is daring, brash an irreverent – qualities Australians identify with,” said chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation, David Hirsh.
“The jury felt his unique approach to peace building and social justice should be recognised and applauded.”
Gittoes now spends about half his year in Afghanistan mentoring local artists and will leave Sydney on Sunday for Jalalabad, where he has established an artist collective
Gittoes told AAP he did not consider himself in the same league as previous winners, which include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and academic Noam Chomsky but said it’s great to have an artist recognised in a peace award.
“Artists can make a huge difference. We’re communicators and we’re creating, and creativity is the opposite of war, where they’re destroying,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter which artist gets it, its great that that’s been acknowledged.”
Guardian staff and agencies with Australian Associated Press. Read the full article here.