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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doggone Artist

by CLINTON FEIN (FOREWORD)
& MICHAEL DICKINSON

FOREWORD

Click to Send PostcardTayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey has a bone to pick, and is wagging a finger at Michael Dickinson.

Michael Dickinson teaches English in Istanbul, Turkey. He is also a fantastic collage artist -- one who uses the tried and true method of paper, glue and scissors – and also happens to be a contributor to Annoy.com.

Mr. Dickinson is facing a 1 to 3 year prison sentence for daring to depict Prime Minister Erdogan as a dog in his collage titled, “Best of Show” – a violation of Article 301 of Turkey’s constitution, which criminalizes insulting "Turkish identity" or state institutions, including the armed forces.

The collage depicts President Bush placing a first-place Stars and Stripes rosette around the neck of Mr. Erdogan, who is depicted as a dog (who appears to have taken a crap).

Mr. Erdogan has been warmly received by the White House on more than one occasion, and in a visit on June 8 2005, President Bush stated: "Turkey's democracy is an important example for the people in the broader Middle East, and I want to thank you for your leadership."

Mr. Erdogan, on the same day remarked of his discussions with President Bush: "I can summarize the main titles of our discussion as freedom, democracy, rule of law, fight against terrorism, security and human rights."

It is difficult to figure out how imprisoning an artist like Michael Dickinson fits into this picture, or how such leadership serves as an example for people in the broader Middle East.

Perhaps Prime Minister Blair, who not too long ago was depicted as a poodle in an animation for “Shoot the Dog,” a George Michael music video, ought remind Mr. Erdogan that imprisoning an artist for self expression – particularly such a harmless image – is not, (as Mr. Dickinson, who is British, points out), the best way to win approval for EU membership, a major aim of Erdogan's administration.

As this story gains traction, Mr. Blair has been asked to intervene, according to Britain's The Sunday Times. The United States, so quick to spread democracy across the globe, should intervene as well, although it might be a tall order. The United States and Turkey are the only two NATO countries that still prohibit gays from serving in their militaries.

Will the United States have the guts to let Turkey know that imprisoning Michael Dickinson would be a foolish move?

Michael's ordeal, in his own words, appears below.

**UPDATE: June 11, 2006: According to The Sunday Times, Mr. Blair has been asked to intervene. (We will add updates to this page as they arise.)

The Bush's Dog Case
Criminal Collage
By MICHAEL DICKINSON


I was at court on Monday. I had to go with a lawyer and hand a letter of confession to a judge. As a result I am to be charged with insulting the dignity of the Prime Minister of Turkey, and face a possible jail sentence of three years.

Let me explain what happened.

In March this year the Turkish Peace and Justice Coalition (Baris ve Adalet Koalisyon--BAK) were given council permission to put up a 'Peace Tent' on the waterfront at Kadikoy (a district of Istanbul where I live). It displayed anti war pictures, posters and banners. There were stands with information and a stage at one end for speeches and concerts.

Two days before the Peace Fair was due to end I decided to add a new collage--one of Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Erdogan with the body of a dog, winning first prize in a show, having a Stars n'Stripes rosette attached to his collar by George W Bush
I took along some of my own antiwar collages (mostly featuring Bush and Blair) to ask if they could be included. It was the first day and BAK was still busy getting everything together, but one guy knew me from exhibitions I've done in the past, and gave me carte blanche. I put my pictures (about 10 altogether) up on the inner flap at the entrance. They stayed there for the next few days, attracting the interest of visitors. I didn't spend much time at the fair myself.

Two days before the Peace Fair was due to end I decided to add a new collage--one of Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Erdogan with the body of a dog, winning first prize in a show, having a Stars n'Stripes rosette attached to his collar by George W Bush. The tent was busy at the time I went. No-one noticed as I stuck it up and left.

When I returned next afternoon I found all my pictures gone. Questioning some stewards I learned that the previous evening a couple of civil police inspecting the tent had taken exception to my picture of Prime Minister Erdogan as a dog and called the uniformed police.

This story which appeared in several of last week's Turkish newspapers explains the situation:
The "Bush's Dog" court case

"The case against Global Peace and Justice Coalition (BAK) member Erkan Kara for "insulting the dignity of the Prime Minister" has opened. If found guilty he faces a penalty of from 1 to 3 years in prison.

Kara was arrested after a poster showing Prime Minister Erdogan as Bush's dog' was stuck up inside the tent erected on March 11 for BAK's Peace Fair in central Kadikoy to protest the occupation of Iraq by USA.

According to Sesonline, civil police inspecting the place noticed the poster and arrested those on duty in the tent, Erkan Kara, Gulen Sahin, Mehmet Demir, Filiz Ulget and Burak Delier. The poster was also taken.

After statements made to the public prosecutor, charges were dropped against the accused Demir, Sahin, Ulget and Delier, but it was determined that Erkan Kara being responsible for the tent, a charge of insulting the Prime Minister should be brought against him.
Article 301 of the Turkish constitution makes it an offence to insult the "Turkish identity" or state institutions, including the armed forces. This is a restriction of freedom of speech that does not exist the countries of the EU
Refusing to accept his responsibility, Kara said: "A lot of people were coming and going in the tent. I didn't see who put the picture up." The case opens next week at Kadikoy Magistrates Court."

When I learned about the situation I agreed to write a letter claiming sole responsibility for the offending picture. I went with BAK's lawyer to the court building this week and presented thde letter officially to the judge, asking for the charge to be dropped against the hapless Kara.

Now however, it is me who will have to face the charge. The date for my appearance in court has yet to be announced. It may take months.

Article 301 of the Turkish constitution makes it an offence to insult the "Turkish identity" or state institutions, including the armed forces. This is a restriction of freedom of speech that does not exist the countries of the EU, and if Turkey really wants to become a member of that organization it would be advisable for them to remove it.

I don't want to go to prison.


Michael Dickinson is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey. He is the founder of the Istanbul Collage Stuckists. His scathing, inventive and exquisitely-wrought political collages appeared regularly on his Carnival of Chaos web site, until he put up 'Tyrant's Pants' and Tripod (part of the Lycos group) deleted his whole site without warning or appeal. More recently his work, from a series of collages inspired by "the violent response of George W Bush to the suicide attacks on the twin towers in New York on September 11th 2001," has appeared on Annoy.com, Counterpunch and Stuckism International. He can be contacted at http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/ . Additional work can be seen at yabanji.tripod.com/ He can be contacted at http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/. Additional work can be seen at yabanji.tripod.com/


UPDATES & COVERAGE


MEDIA COVERAGE


Blair asked to help artist facing jail
The Sunday Times
June 11, 2006

Dogfight Express
First Amendment Project
June 11, 2006

EXTERNAL LINKS


Stuckism

Counterpunch



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