In a major trial that challenged an artist’s right to free expression, the British artist Michael Dickinson, who lives in Turkey, was prosecuted by the Turkish government in 2006 for creating a photo-collage seen as “insulting the dignity of the prime minister.”
Dickinson faced years in prison for his artwork, but on September 25, 2008, the judge in the case dropped all criminal charges against him.
In part Dickinson’s release was secured by global protests initiated by artists. A member of the Stuckist International, Dickinson received immediate backing from Stuckism’s London headquarters.
Charles Thomson, co-founder of the Stuckists, wrote a widely publicized letter to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which Thomson stated: “It is intolerable that a country applying for European Union membership should censor freedom of political comment in this way. I trust you will communicate your strongest condemnation and ask for this case to be abandoned immediately.” Thomson also sent a similar letter to the current British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
But Michael Dickinson’s predicament was also noted by others. I followed Dickinson’s trial closely, and when Mark Givens, the editor-in-chief of MungBeing arts journal in Pomona, California, started a worldwide petition to call for the release of Dickinson, I became a signatory. In part, the petition stated:
“We, the undersigned, support an artist’s right of free expression. We stand firmly with Amnesty International in their calls on the Turkish authorities to terminate without delay all prosecutions against individuals under the notorious Article 301, and to abolish all other articles in the Turkish Penal Code that stifle and punish freedom of speech and expression. We call for the prosecution of Michael Dickinson over his political collages to be dropped.”
In Southern California’s Inland Empire Weekly, Kevin Ausmus’ article, Pomona editor helps keep British artist out of jail, summarizes the successful campaign waged by Givens to free Michael Dickinson. An except from that story reads:
“After hearing of Dickinson’s plight, Mark Givens of Pomona, editor-in-chief of MungBeing, decided it was necessary to start an online petition on the artist’s behalf. Now, Givens’ ‘tremendous support’ in publicizing the case is being credited for galvanizing the necessary publicity to tip the verdict in Dickinson’s favor (….) Though the petition gathered less than 600 signatures overall, those who did sign proved to be of high quality in the international art community, including Steve Bell, a British political cartoonist for the Guardian known for his controversial caricatures; Mark Vallen, a Los Angeles-based painter and activist; Noam Chomsky and several artists associated with the Turkish Freedom Movement.”
When facing the seemingly insurmountable problems of today’s world, it is not difficult to see why some surrender to hopelessness and indifference. However, it should not go without saying that our actions, or lack thereof, do make a difference; which has been amply demonstrated by the successful defense of Mr. Dickinson.