Monday, 14 March 2011

Jumping on the Gaddafi Bandwagon...

There has been a lot of coverage recently of Saif al Islam al Gaddafi, one of the sons of the (allegedly) dope smoking, finger poking, gun toting, hair dyeing one man circus who claims not to be the president of Libya. What is it with the black hair dye and Arab leaders? Gaddafi, the late Saddam, Mubarak, Ben Ali ... they were all at it. There's probably a bit of facial nip and tuck as well, particularly if you happen to be a good friend of Silvio Berlusconi.

However, my interest here is in the Gaddafi Jnr. who has appeared regularly on both Libyan and international media since the Libyan leg of the regional revolutionary tour kicked off. In Libya he seems to be on TV doing very bad impersonations of his Dad, while his international appearances have consisted of indignation, regime justification and the high drama of embracing the inevitability of a political martyr's death on national soil.

Given Saif al Islam's connection to the UK there has been considerable hand wringing especially about his links to the London School of Economics, which has since disassociated itself from him and his generous donation. This is a little hypocritical given some of their other sources of funding but this is an issue for many UK universities that will no doubt worsen after huge spending cuts to higher education by the current UK government. 

Despite all this coverage and analysis there has been almost no mention of Saif al Islam Gaddafi's former career as an artist. His association with The Desert is Not Silent, a touring exhibition of Libyan antiquities and contemporary art was occasionally mentioned but nobody had picked up on the fact that a substantial number of works in that exhibition were actually painted by Saif al Islam himself.

The Desert is Not Silent was most recently shown in Moscow in 2010 but was launched in London in 2002. It was a huge, champagne flowing affair in a specially constructed tent (sound familiar?) in Kensington packed with a bizarre and uneasy mix of politicians,.diplomats, academics, spooks, fixers, journalists and a few tokens from the art world.

The exhibition included the work of several contemporary Libyan artists and a collection of antiquities all of which were very interesting. However, because it was essentially Saif al Islam's project and he was present, it was his work which dominated. One of the rumours circulating the big tent was that he hadn't actually painted them himself. Fortunately, spouse knew the security man at the event so I was able to glide easily through the largely psychophantic (sic) crowd and get close enough for a question. I asked him about the technique and material used on one particular highly textured work and he gave me a very enthusiastic and plausible answer. So I believe he did paint them.... or at least the one I asked about!

If only he had stuck to the painting who knows where he could be now? Probably not at the Sharjah Biennial but possibly at Art Dubai. Incidentally, I found an article about him published in The National to coincide with last year's Moscow opening and it is a most informative read!

Unfortunately, The Desert is not Silent website just happens to be down for maintenance so for those of you who were wondering about the work of the Gaddafi 'Prince Formerly Known as Artist', here is a selection from the 2002 catalogue. It probably breaches copyright laws but I couldn't get hold of him to ask for permission and I'm guessing he's too busy to sue right now.

An article written about this exhibition at the time included parts of an interview with Saif al Islam and ends with the line: 
So what of the future? Is there a Gaddafi succession planned? "No," he said. "Not me or anyone else. There will be no succession after my father. There will be a democracy."
All going according to plan then?

  The Challenge

The image above received more attention at the exhibition than any other which was not entirely fair because there were more interesting works. However, Gaddafi Senior looming over earthly proceedings from the sky is a guaranteed attention grabber. Painted in 2000, part of the catalogue text for this read:
Libya was as strong as a rock against which the arrogance of the neo-crusaders was broken. In this tragedy of the new world order the leader becomes the 'unique eagle'.
Only two other images had any political theme or content. War (relating to Kosovo) and Intifada which could easily be a symbol of some more recent revolutions! Most other works reflected themes of bedouin culture, desert landscape, abstract colour and the emergence of art from original cave drawings and paintings. Medium was usually oil or mixed media on canvas.



 The Tent


 Untitled (Oil on Bedouin Fabric)

Untitled (Oil on Bedouin Fabric)

Selection from series The Desert is Not Silent


 Still Life
Endless Colours
Bella Rosa