Satire that could land British artist in a Turkish jail
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent, and Suna Erdem in Istanbul
A BRITISH artist is facing up to three yearsâ€™ jail in Turkey for exhibiting a collage that depicts its Prime Minister as a dog being awarded a rosette by President Bush in a pet show.
Police in Istanbul seized Michael Dickinsonâ€™s Best in Show â€” in which he superimposed the head of Recep Tayyip Erdogan on to a dogâ€™s body â€” from his exhibition in the city.
He has been told that he is likely to be charged with â€œinsulting the dignity of the Prime Ministerâ€. The showâ€™s organiser, Erkan Kara, will go on trial on September 12 on the same charge.
Mr Dickinson, 56, said: â€œItâ€™s such an Alice in Wonderland feeling. The law is so absurd . . . This law exists in Turkey about insulting â€˜Turkishnessâ€™ or the State. Youâ€™re not allowed to state your opinion.â€
The case could greatly embarrass Turkey and Britain, for it raises questions about Turkeyâ€™s human rights record as it seeks EU membership, with Tony Blairâ€™s backing.
After an international outcry, charges of â€œinsulting Turkishnessâ€ were dropped against the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who had upset the authorities with remarks on the killings of Armenians in 1915-17.
Pamukâ€™s case was dropped in January after the justice ministry refused to issue a ruling on whether the charges were valid.
Mr Dickinson, born in Durham, has lived in Turkey for 20 years, teaching English at Yeditepe University. His younger brother, John, is the father of 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson, who was murdered while on a school trip to France in 1996. He spent most of his childhood in Kuwait, where his father worked for the Kuwait Oil Company. He was educated at the Anglo-American School with his two brothers, and later at boarding school in Yorkshire.
His exhibition was staged in Istanbul by the Global Peace and Justice Coalition. The collage, hung with anti-war images, refers to the Prime Minister having taken legal action over cartoons depicting him as various animals. Upset at Mr Karaâ€™s plight, Mr Dickinson said: â€œI donâ€™t want anyone to go to prison for me.â€
Charles Thomson, of the Stuckist art movement, to which Mr Dickinson belongs, has told Mr Blair that it is intolerable for an EU applicant to censor political comment.
â€œI trust you will communicate your strongest condemnation and ask for this case to be abandoned,â€ he wrote, urging Mr Blair to oppose Turkeyâ€™s EU membership until it changes its stance on human rights.
Mr Thomson has also written to Olli Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, saying that in the Union the collage would be considered acceptable free expression.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said: â€œEverybody will have to wait and see whether the court decides if this is about freedom of expression or not.â€ A spokesman said that Turkeyâ€™s laws should be respected and suggested that the international community was too hasty in condemning it.
â€œWe have laws here and just as it was the artistâ€™s prerogative to depict the Prime Minister as a dog, it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister â€” and this could have been anyone â€” to decide that this was insulting and sue him. We will see what the judges say about this.â€
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