Australian artist George Gittoes launches first Tasmanian exhibition

When Australian artist George Gittoes and his wife Hellen Rose first travelled to Afghanistan, there were no art galleries or theatres.

“The Taliban closed down the arts,” Gittoes said.

But while there might not have been galleries, but art didn’t disappear.

“There’s a moving art show on the backs of rickshaws,” Gittoes said.

It started with release of the third Rambo movie, which lead to drivers decorating their rickshaws withgraphic violent action heroes for protection, he said.

Sketching the images he saw, Gittoes used them to inspire his first exhibition in Tasmania.

He and Rose arrived in traditional Afghani dress.

More than a decade after they first visited Afghanistan, there was a burgeoning film industry and traditional art had reemerged into the public, he said.

They fly an Australian flag high at Yellow House, a refuge for artists, in Jalalabad to commemorate lives lost and celebrate the return of traditional arts to the city.

They ran literacy programs to help street kids pass the entrance exams for schools, he said.

He vividly remembered one of the young men involved in the Yellow House, who was kidnapped and forced to fight for Islamic State, returning to the house after escaping.

He had picked up a camera and said “this is how I’m going to react, not with a gun, but with a camera”.

Gittoes has travelled around the world’s most violent conflict zones, often with the Australian military, documenting and pursuing peace by sharing his passion for art.

While he is an optimist, Gittoes said he feared a future of impersonal slaughter with remotely controlled drones and robots, “an inhuman warfare”.

Particularly he remembered hearing drones fly over the house each day, leaving behind dead people and pets who waited for their owners to return home, but they never did, he said.

Rose said the decimation of art wreaked havoc on the soul.

"When there is no art in a country, when it comes back in, it comes as an ecstatic experience.”

It was a cruelty to take away art from a culture, she said.

Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten said the exhibition was an acknowledgement that some migrants arriving in Northern Tasmania had incredible pasts.

Showcasing differing life experiences gave people a better idea of the diverse upbringings others have, Ald van Zetten said.

“It reminds people that this is the alternative if there is no peace.” 

  • The exhibition runs from November 11 until February 18 next year at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery at Royal Park. Gittoes will be painting live from 11am on Saturday at the exhibition.