Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
3 March 2011

Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi: surrealist painter

Political paintings by Gaddafi fils have been exhibited all over the world.

By Susannah Butter

The Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi – who recently told protesters in Libya to clear the streets or face rivers of blood – was once a keen painter.

His art exhibition “The Desert Is Not Silent”, made up of 50 of his own paintings alongside Roman and Libyan antiques, has travelled through the west over the past eight years, stopping off in London’s Hyde Park in 2002.

Gaddafi said the exhibition was designed to show that:

Not only do we buy weapons and sell gas and oil, but we have culture, art and history.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Much of his contribution to Libyan “culture, art and history” is informed by his political interests.

The Challenge (2000) is a painting of an eagle, representing his father, defiantly doing battle with what he calls “neo-crusaders”. Glued to the painting is part of a bomb, dropped by US aircraft on the Gaddafi family home in Tripoli in 1986. Intifada (2001) is a painting of a fist clutching a blood-spattered stone, with news clippings of an Israeli raid glued around it. And War (2001) was shaped by events in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

Not all the paintings are political, though. Paper Tiger (2001) shows Saif’s beloved late cat Fredo against a white background.

Unfortunately, the show’s website is currently “down for maintenance”.