In this exclusive interview with Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), Italian cartoonist Gianluca Costantini discusses his path from classically trained artist to advocate, being charged with “aiding terrorism” in Turkey, and the importance of collaboration to advance human rights.
Gianluca Costantini is an activist and artist who for years fought his battles through the drawing. Censored on the web by the Turkish government, he angered many French readers for a short comic about Charlie Hebdo’s terrorist story.
Costantini collaborated with Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao on an image supporting Hong Kong’s protesters for ARC’s #ArtistsxArtists initiative.
He actively collaborates with ActionAid, Amnesty, Cesvi, ARCI, and Oxfam organizations, as well as artists like Ai Wei Wei. His drawings mapped the story of the HRW Film Festival in London, the FIFDH Human Rights Festival in Geneva, the Human Rights Festival of Milan and the International Festival in Ferrara. .
Drawing for Human Rights: An Interview with Gianluca Costantini (selected excerpts)
Costantini: In 2000, I started drawing these minor news items, especially about the Middle East: Palestine and Israel. I started to get involved in this movement called “Indymedia.” They took my drawings and translated them into all their [network] languages…
So I made a series of drawings and put them online [on their site], and they started to really spread. I started to follow the news, especially during periods of street protests, particularly during the Arab Spring. Like I followed [the movement] in Cairo and made drawings they used in their communications. And in time it became more and more about people, like the person put in jail or the person who had suffered violently, the journalist who had been killed or repeatedly arrested. And so I entered into contact with families [of victims] too, to the point where at first I would be looking for what seemed to be urgent cases and then people started writing [to] me…
Whoever wrote to me, if it seemed clear that their cause was just, I did it for him or her. I did drawings or even long series on things that I never knew if I would ever be paid for
Text Slide: In 2016, Gianluca’s blog was censored in Turkey. Later, a Turkish court used his Twitter profile and blog as evidence to convict him on charges of “aiding terrorism.”
Costantini: They were charging me [with aiding terrorism] for a picture, this picture *shows picture*, but if you ask me this is just an excuse, an excuse because of my other activism.
In the end, I did even more things against the Turkish government, exactly because I care so much about that country…and apart from this drawing you saw of Erdoğan, which is really offensive, I try not to offend anyone ever, even bad guys.
Text slide: In April 2019, Gianluca won an Amnesty International “Arts & Human Rights” Award for his work. He collaborates frequently with artists at risk, including exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
Costantini: We [Weiwei and Costantini] met on Twitter because we have many of the same goals, and when he came then to do a show in Florence two or three years ago, we met in person. So then he invited me to his trial [where he was suing VW for using his art in their ads without permission], and it was a closed door trial in which you could not film. So he invited me to be a courtroom sketcher, like they do in the U.S.