“Gittoes’s work often asks two questions: what are the experiences of other artists working and surviving in war zones? Or, what is his moral responsibility as an artist-correspondent? When Gittoes allows his subjects to explain the former, or, when he talks about his own experience of the latter, his work is clear and insightful.
Gittoes’s most successful projects are his films, in which his subjects can convey all the subtlety and depth of what they have known. They are able to establish what the psychiatrist R. D. Laing called “inter-experience,” a psychological connection between people, essential for social and political action. In his film The Bullets of the Poets (1987), Gittoes and co-creator Gabrielle Dalton document the struggles of Sandinista revolutionaries during their decade-long struggle against Nicaragua’s right-wing dictatorship. Without commentary or intervention, Gittoes provides spaces for feminist poets to tell the story of their country and their art—including the Revolutionary poet Gioconda Belli, who describes her work as “an art of urgency.”
Diary excerpts from the 1995 Rwandan genocide drive home the moral imperative of Gittoes’s humanitarian art. Unlike the sketchbooks in the front galleries, these four large pages are written with a nib pen and appended with photographs. Fictional stories and factual accounts collide as wobbly handwriting intensifies their immediacy. The journals are ornamented with snapshots bordered by loose, muted strokes of watercolor or pen. Horribly wounded civilians, their faces disfigured by machetes, explode from the page, staring down viewers with searing physical and emotional pain.
“Rwanda Maconde” (1995) recounts a massacre at the Kibeho refugee camp. Words gush forward feverishly, spilling down the page with forceful propulsion. A few lines have been hurriedly redacted and the text changes size or bleeds or devolves into emphatic scribbles. At the anchored center, one photo shows a boy staring fearfully; in another, the bodies of a mother and child are dumped unceremoniously into a mass grave. Both images are framed by burning slashes of color. The spare and direct construction of the document hits you square in the gut.
In his installations, Gittoes puts foreign conflicts squarely into our domain. “DVD Store” (2011) smartly re-creates a small, Taliban-threatened video shop the artist documented in his 2009 film The Miscreants of Taliwood, shot in Pakistan’s nearly lawless Northwest Frontier Province. The tiny outlet, covered floor to ceiling with ads and packaging for local Pashto films, screens trailers for Gittoes-produced Tali movies on small monitors overhead, including Moon Light (a parody of the vampire romance Twilight) and a female-empowered flick, The Tailor’s Story. These DVD stands become loci for what Benjamin Barber termed “Jihad vs. McWorld,” places where globalizing markets come into violent opposition with tribal, fundamentalist reactionaries.”