19 Sep 2011

Gaddafi: the writing on the wall

Speeding along the road towards Tripoli, on 2 September, some graffiti caught my eye. It was scrawled in English, on a wall in the town of Zahwiya, where the uprising against Gaddafi had been so brutally put down.

The message was exquisite in its simplicity. It read: “WE ARE NOT RATS.”

It was a reference to the notorious “Zenga-Zenga” speech, given seven months ago by Muammar Gaddafi, when he vowed to hunt down the Benghazi “traitors” like rats, alleyway by alleyway.

Within days of my arrival in liberated Tripoli, huge murals were appearing on the walls of the capital, many of them depicting Gaddafi as the rat, trapped, but on the run.

How the tables had turned.  It was now the former Brother Leader and his hated sons who were being hunted, alleyway by alleyway.

I began to take pictures of this flourishing liberation street art, which seemed to release artistic and creative skills which for decades had been repressed under  Gaddafi’s police state.

There was a fresh and delicious defiance among the artists themselves, who, young and old, savoured this new-found opportunity to portray their detested former  dictator as they really saw him, rather than having to feign loyalty to a dangerous eccentric and his profligate family.

The accompanying gallery is the result of my hopping in and out of vehicles during my two weeks in Libya.  For that, I thank the patience of our drivers Khaled and Munir and my colleagues Ray, Helene and Chris.