is one of Australia's foremost figurative painters. He has won several
major awards, and been invited to represent Australia in international
exhibitions and artist residency programs. In 1997 he was awarded an Order
of Australia for his contribution to the Arts and International Relations.
For 15 years Gittoes has been working in areas which are usually the reserve
His work catches the complexity of individual emotion and circumstance,
placed against issues of empowerment and survival. Gittoes gives us a
powerful, close up and personal response to conflicts best known to us
from the nightly news - famine and peacekeeping in Somalia, mine-clearing
after civil wars in Cambodia, the Kibeho massacre in Rwanda, sectarian
violence in Northern Ireland, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia,
the elections in South Africa which brought Mandela to power, eruptions
to the peace process in the Middle East - together with journeys to less
familiar places - China, Tibet, Bougainville, and most recently, Pakistan
The Preacher was painted after Gittoes experienced the Kibeho massacre
in Rwanda in 1995. It has been a subject he has revisited several times
in his art since that time.
Artist's notations on drawing and etching of same title 23 April,1995,
Kibeho Camp. Rwanda.
"Two days ago there were thousands of people standing and pleading
for help. Now everything is flattened - bodies crumpled amidst rubbish
- their few discarded possessions useless. This was a sanctuary, a Catholic
girls school and Cathedral, where for several years girls have had visions
of the Virgin Mary - making it a place of pilgrimage. The IDPs came here
seeking the protection of the Virgin Mother.
The RPA soldiers herded refugees into a compressed sea of humanity - denied
food and water - tightly contained behind razor wire and barricades. As
the killing has moved through them there have been wave-like bursts of
panic - shifts and changes in the pattern of slaughter - bodies crushed
and torn, rolled in mud and caught in the razor wire as crowds in herds
press over them.
These are proud people who cling to their dignity until the filth and
horror of this place tears it from them. I helped drag a man out of the
shitter yesterday morning - he had survived a night of massacre by hiding
in the heat and vile stench of the pit, but lost his mind. Seeing him
stretched out in the sun, shit caked and drying - a condom hanging from
his shirt pocket, I felt relief when a passing RPA soldier casually put
a bullet through his head. During something like this many realities operate
at the same time.
This afternoon, as if walking through an invisible door I came into a
group who were calm. Though bursts of machine gun fire surrounded them
- continually getting closer with terrifying inevitability - they remained
a solid congregation - bound together not by walls, but by prayer. A solitary
preacher read to them from a ragged bible - he was a tall man in a yellowish
coat, sitting high on a sack of grain.
He spoke in French with a thick dialect - his voice hoarse and broken
- but I could recognise the sermon on the mount, "Heureux les coeurs purs:
ils verront Dieu". Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Godů
Those around him clasped their hands or hugged their children. The Preacher
was aware of me - he was not going to plead for help he knew I could not
give (my blue UN helmet meant little anymore, to this congregation). Our
eyes met and in rapid succession I saw anger, despair, courage - then
he smiled - the purity of his faith unquestionable.
For these people who had lost everything the Preacher helped them regain
The guns silenced for a moment and I took this opportunity to sneak two
young boys past the RPA gauntlet.
I did not look back - the boys demanded my complete focus.
Where the Preacher was, there were only trampled bodies. I've searched
for his yellow coat, but now have to concentrate on the survivors.