GEORGE Gittoes was honoured with the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize at Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday night for his 45 years’ work exposing injustice as a humanist artist, activist and filmmaker.
The Sydney Peace Prize is Australia’s only annual international prize for peace.
Mr Gittoes, who grew up in St George and lived and worked in Bundeena for many years, received the award for exposing injustice as an artist and for his courage to witness and confront violence in the war zones of the world.
He uses his work as a painter, filmmaker and photojournalist to advocate for the victims of war.
Artist recognised for life's work
GEORGE Gittoes was honoured with the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize at Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday night for his work as a humanist artist, activist and filmmaker.
The Sydney Peace Prize is presented by the Sydney Peace Foundation, an independent, non-profit organisation at the University of Sydney, which survives on donations.
St George-based Mr Gittoes received the award for ‘‘fighting 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’’.
Mr Gittoes grew up in Rockdale and went to Bexley Public School and later Kogarah High School, which he still visits to mentor art students.
He studied fine arts at the University of Sydney and helped establish the artist’s co-operative Yellow House, in Potts Point, from 1969 to 1972, with fellow artists Brett Whitely and Martin Sharp.
He lived and worked at Bundeena for many years and lives part-time in St George.
Mr Gittoes uses his painting, filmmaking and photojournalism to depict scenes of conflict around the world, including Nicaragua, Somalia, Cambodia, Western Sahara, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Bougainville, East Timor, South Africa, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan.
More recently, he opened a Yellow House in the centre of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as a cultural oasis for artists, actors and musicians in a region where artists, filmmakers and musicians live in fear.
Closer to home, he established a Yellow House artists’ studio and exhibition space in a factory in Arncliffe. It recently closed and will relocated elsewhere in St George.
Mr Gittoes explained that growing up in Villiers Street, Rockdale, shaped his outlook.
‘‘Since my childhood, Rockdale has been a kind of Ellis Island, accepting wave after wave of refugees and immigrants,’’ he said.
‘‘I have given up trying to influence politicians for change and believe that if people seriously want change they need to roll up their sleeves and do grassroots work from the ground up.
‘‘In our case, we have chosen Jalalabad and the Yellow House, a multi-level school, film production house and art centre in a city where there were not galleries, art or film schools and nothing for the poorest of the poor kids to qualify for state school.
‘‘Many people, particularly now, ask me if I feel hopeless and depressed by the continuing crisis we are seeing, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
‘‘Commentators are all pessimistic about Afghanistan but I refuse to listen to them.
‘‘I tell them that I am optimistic because I have witnessed so many seemingly hopeless conflicts be resolved.
‘‘I had seen the worst of racism in South Africa but eventually there was that glorious day of Mandela’s Rainbow Nation speech in Pretoria.
‘‘My feeling is that the majority of people on both sides want an end to the rockets and bombs and terror.
‘‘In all my years of witnessing war and conflict I have always found that the reality never matches the mental images built in the mind by the news media and our politicians.
‘‘I try to explain on the news that there are good Taliban and that Taliban leaders in Jalalabad support our Yellow House, including our women’s workshops; people are incredulous. Creativity, like sunshine, is free. Just as sunlight sustains life on Earth, art feeds the soul.
‘‘We are all born with the ability to create and to destroy. I know what side I want to be on.’’
MCA presents the Sydney premiere of Mr Gittoes’ new documentary, Snow Monkey, on Thursday evening, November 11.
See more on Gittoes' work and films at: gittoes.com