After the acquittal, the news broke fast across the European continent via the BBC, and was also reported in the Los Angeles Times. In an email statement to the IE Weekly, Dickinson said “[the] judge’s intelligent decision to acquit me on the charges of ‘insult’ will convince other judges presiding over the many cases against Turkish authors and artists for expressing their opinions in print or in art to do likewise.” If convicted, Dickinson could have spent up to two years in jail.
Exactly one year ago, however, Dickinson seemingly had only one supporter among the global art world, an editor of an obscure Inland Empire-based on-line magazine, MungBeing, that had featured Dickinson’s art work. 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.
Pasadena Weekly reported on the petition drive initially circulated by Givens last year. MungBeing had featured art by Dickinson and others in an art collective known as the Stuckists, a group that “embraces figurative painting with ideas,” according to its web site. Sometimes the ideas are controversial, like Dickinson’s “Best in Show,” which was a full color collage that demonstrated President George W. Bush placing a ribbon on a dog with the face of Ergodan superimposed over it. This was the first piece that got Dickinson in trouble in Turkey. (Though Dickinson was originally arrested for the “Best in Show” piece, his trial focused on a similar piece called “Good Boy.”)
Why did an IE paper get involved in something so far away? Givens says he felt compelled to help a fellow artist, despite the distance between them. At the time, Givens said “what happens to one MungBeing artist affects all of our artists. If one artist is suppressed, all voices are diminished.”
After consulting documents provided by Amnesty International and conferring with well-known activist and provocateur Noam Chomsky, Givens devised and posted the petition so that Dickinson could use it in his defense and “demonstrate to the court the value and import we place on artistic inquiry and an artist’s right to self expression.” Givens also appealed for letters on Dickinson’s behalf.
The decision to post the petition on MungBeing’s web site elicited a protest from Charles Thomson, with Billy Childish one of the co-founders of the Stuckist movement, says Givens. “He thought it should be placed on a bigger website” where it would draw more attention. Givens stuck to his guns. 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.
Now, Givens is being praised by Thomson, who contacted Givens from London and told him “the press attention was a major factor in the decision.”
Saving foreign born artists from incarceration and participating in global appeals for artistic freedom was not something Givens had in mind when he started MungBeing in 2005, but it’s not as unlikely as it seems. Givens, who grew up in Claremont, has been involved in numerous artistic endeavors for the better part of 30 years. He is one half of Wckr Spgt, a rock group started in 1981 while Givens was still in high school. Wckr Spgt had an enormous influence on the local indie rock movement in the 1980s and now has 40 releases to its credit.
During this time, Givens turned his attention to publishing, starting with the Bowl Sheet in the mid-’80s and then Salmon Bosch from 1990 to 1993. MungBeing’s purpose, says Givens, was to “bring the Salmon Bosch ethos to the digital age.”
He is a man of his word.