Art school with the Taliban
28 February 2012
Joadja and Jesse the Dingo and I sat on the verandah of the old cottage at Possum Point and looked out through the rain and the tall old spotted gums to the wet beach. The sun rose as a weak white glow through the mist. They say there hasn’t been a summer like this in sixty years. Coming on top of the last, lacklustre, summer it will probably kill off quite a few struggling businesses along the coast.
It got pretty hairy on the freeway to Wollongong the day we drove down. There was thick fog and constant rain and the electronic warning signs told us to slow down and put our hazard lights on so I went down to 40 km/h but mad people kept hurtling past us at 100 without even their headlights on and Joadja said there could be a multi-car pileup at any moment and Jesse did only reasonable thing a dog can do under the circumstances and fell asleep.
So far it had been a holiday of sad songs at midnight and long walks in the rain.
I took another slurp of lukewarm coffee, scanned through the damp two-day old papers and got an eerie sense of a world fecklessly adrift. When you got down to it, between Gillard and Rudd there wasn’t much to choose, except maybe that Rudd could win against Abbott.
In the hapless Afghanistan, George Gittoes, Australia’s extremely famous war artist and guerrilla film-maker was improbably roaming the Taliban-controlled backblocks. There was George gazing out of the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald wearing a silly hat, with a midget in one hand and a monkey in the other. It seems he’d popped up at Tora Bora – where Osama bin–Laden himself used to hang out – with some sort of circus troupe. George was dispensing fun and love all round and there were hugs for the local Talibs.
To hear George tell it, everybody loves him. He hugs the Yanks and the Taliban, both.
He’s apparently recreated The Yellow House in Jalalabad – the original Yellow House was an early 70’s Sydney hippy crash pad and art space – and he reckons he’s teaching the Talibs to paint. Awesome. Deep down, the Talibs are aspiring hippy artists. Only George could have seen that.
The Herald piece was accompanied by two video clips of George on location – presumably around Jalalabad – where he’s also trying to establish a local Pashtun film industry. There’s the amazing spectacle of George leading his film crew and four young actresses into a highly provocative public shoot at a wedding dress shop, getting surrounded by hundreds of jeering, spitting men and boys, deciding to retreat, and then losing one of his girls in the crowd. So he sends one of his crew back into the crowd to find the girl, and then, worrying that the Taliban might rustle up a suicide bomber, tries to flee in the crew minibus except a taxi driver refuses to move his car and boxes them in and the crowd presses closer in on the vehicle and then, mercifully, the clip ends.
In the next clip George has the girls out in the countryside and he hires three armed Taliban fighters the crew stumble on to play themselves in a scene with the girls and suddenly they all get buzzed by an armed Predator drone.
I dunno. It’s hard to decide whether the man is an innovative one-man cultural aid program or a tragedy waiting to happen. It all sounds way too weird to be true, but maybe George’s crazy-mad vision is the way of the future. Maybe everybody carrying a gun in that benighted country will just write him off as a harmless Australian loony. Maybe George’s luck will hold. But personally I wouldn’t recommend standing too close him in case some Taliban commander decides to take no chances on him not being an American spy or a fundamentalist mullah concludes he’s a Western cultural terrorist … or he gets taken out by a CIA drone.