In the early 1970s in Sydney, George Gittoes and Martin Sharp ran The Yellow House, combining visual arts with film and theatre to introduce a new kind of art to Australia. Today, after thirty years of making art in war zones around the world, Gittoes lives with performance artist Hellen Rose at a second Yellow House he has established in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Underneath the ominous sound of US drones and helicopters, and on the frontier of an ongoing war between the US and the Taliban, he runs a creative hub for actors and filmmakers. He also runs a circus, touring the provinces of Afghanistan with a monkey on his shoulder, and entertaining children who have never seen film or performance before. While he draws and paints, Gittoes is also making films: Snow Monkey (2015), Love City, Jalalabad (2013) and The Miscreants of Taliwood (2009). These follow his earlier filmmaking ventures in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Rose works with film too, running filmmaking workshops for women. To secure local support to carry on his work there, Gittoes has been in negotiation with the Afghani Taliban, and suspects he is being watched by Islamic State (I.S.). A portrait painting that Gittoes is exhibiting in Perth, Moulana Gul Badshah (2009), represents how amidst the violence of the region, The Yellow House stands for peace. The mullah had been planning to kidnap Gittoes and Rose before they invited him to the Yellow House to persuade him that they were doing good things in Jalalabad. The following interview with Gittoes was conducted in Perth, where he is exhibiting alongside other artists in ‘9/11’, a show curated by Chelsea Hopper about 9/11 and its aftermath at MOANA Project Space. He is also the subject of a retrospective that is currently touring Australia, called ‘I Witness’. In 2015 he was the first artist to receive the Sydney Peace Prize.
Interview | DARREN JORGENSEN| George Gittoes: Artist, Peacemaker