Best in Show
In March of 2006, Michael Dickinson, a British English teacher who had lived in Turkey for 20 years, decided to contribute some of his collages to an anti-Iraq War event. The "Peace Tent" was organized by the Turkish Peace and Justice Coalition (Baris ve Adalet Koalisyon--BAK).
Ten of Dickinson's pieces were accepted and placed in the tent. Then, two days before the show was over, Dickinson returned and added a new collage. No one noticed as he stuck it up and left.
But the image, Best in Show (above), depicting the Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Erdogan with the body of a dog, winning an American flag ribbon from President Bush, did not remain under officials' radar.
The next day, Dickinson learned that all his collages had been removed by the civil police, and the event's organizers had been arrested. Ultimately, the man responsible for the tent, Erkan Kara, was put on trial for violating Article 301 of the Turkish constitution, which makes it a crime to insult the "Turkish identity" or state institutions, including the armed forces. Kara faced 1-3 years in prison.
Dickinson accompanied Kara's lawyer to court and submitted a letter taking sole responsibility for the artwork. Outside court he held up this collage...
The authorities promptly arrested him. You can read his diaries of his 10 harrowing days in the Turkish prison, including sleep deprivation, food restriction, and a botched escape attempt, here.
Over the next 2 years there were 2 more trials, until last Friday, September 26, 2008 when he was finally acquitted. The judge ruled that there were "some insulting" elements," but the artwork "was within the limits of criticism."
Dickinson told the AP:
Michael Dickinson from his Yabanji website (yabanji is Turkish for stranger/foreigner/outsider)
This case has put a spotlight on free speech and human rights abuses in Turkey as they continue to press for EU inclusion. The judge even cited the fact that:
"This sort of art was quite normal in the European community, mentioning cartoonists in Spain and Germany, who sometimes caricatured politicians as pigs or other animals without being accused of insult.
His conclusion was that as Turkey was trying to join the European community a collage such as Dickinson's should not be held as a crime." (via Charles Thomson of Saatchi Online)
In the end, Michael Dickinson is relieved it is over and hopeful that his ordeal will enhance freedoms of other Turkish artists and writers.
I am intrigued by his work and the Stuckist Movement he is a part of. Stuckism was founded in Britain in 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative. The Stuckists were rebelling against the conceptual art of the Charles Saatchi-backed Young British Artists, i.e. Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
The name Stuckism comes from a comment, made by Tracey Emin to Billy Childish, her then boyfriend, which he turned into a poem:
Your paintings are stuck,
you are stuck!
Stuck! Stuck! Stuck! ( via Wikipedia)
Micheal Dickinson founded the Istanbul Collage Stuckist Group in 2004.
BTW, did you hear Maureen Dowd was banned from the McCain "Straight Talk" plane? There is speculation that now journalists are biting their tongues to avoid a similar retribution. Just because someone isn't thrown in a Turkish prison doesn't mean our own rights to speech and dissent aren't being shredded. It is shameful.