On the occasion of Human Right’s Day, on December 10, 2013, the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) promoted four-days of artistic activism for human rights in Tripoli, Libya. In cooperation with local and international partners and with financial support from the European Union, OMCT convened educational, artistic workshops for children and youth, commissioned a huge graffiti mural on Al Saidi Street in Tripoli, as well as an original hip hop song, and held a conference on civil society’s fight against torture in Libya, movie screenings, and various musical concerts. On December 10, 2014, OMCT will release a documentary film about these events, which captures the hope and energy felt by artists and activists in Libya only one year ago.
In this continuing series of interviews, OMCT speaks with young artists, Libyan and non-Libyan, who participated in last year’s events. In these conversations, the artists remember and discuss their experiences during the Human Rights Day commemoration, and how circumstances have changed in their lives, Libya, and the region as a whole, since then.
Artist N°1: Nadir Elmalti, aka Porto
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Though skating in the streets of Benghazi is his second favorite hobby, Nadir Elmalti’s passion is graffiti. He started sketching and doing graffiti before the Libyan revolution, but admits that it became easier after the uprising started. For Elmalti, graffiti is about finding the right message for each situation, and “bringing life to an ugly grey wall.”
Currently stuck in Benghazi, Elmalti has put his passion for graffiti, as well as his studies on hold. The reason? He lives in a neighborhood near the road leading to Benghazi’s airport, which continues to experience heavy fire from competing armed groups.
Because of the ongoing crisis, Elmalti is planning to leave the country, in order to continue his studies in Languages, with a focus in French.
Elmalti reflected on his experience at the OMCT event last year and life these days in Libya.
What sort of memories do you have from last year’s events in Tripoli?
Well the best memory is seeing artists from all around the country and outside Libya come together and work for the same cause and for the love of art. It was my first experience of this kind. I had never worked with that number of artists before.
I, and others I believe, learned about the importance of team work around one common goal. I also discovered new techniques from other artists, who were all unique in their own ways.
The event showed people the power of graffiti, and how art can make a huge impact on society when it comes to spreading a message.
What meaning do the graffiti pieces you made for last year’s events have and why did you choose to paint them?
I painted the words “Mercy” and “Change.” I tried to choose the right words to reflect what was going on in Libya at the time, namely, the country’s emergence from a state of revolution.
I painted “Change” in big bold letters to make it stand out and catch the eye of passers by, making them stop and think about the image for a moment. Freedom is not something that just happens, and nothing will change until people change from inside. For a country to change, people must forget about what happened in the past and start fresh.
As visitors will see, a cactus appears on the image. I was doing my piece when I realized it might be too big and reach the cactus image [which was created by a British graffiti artist living in Libya, Charlie Cooper]. I did not want to ruin the cactus so Charlie and I discussed the situation. We decided it might be a good idea to make the two images blend together and create one whole piece.
As for the “Mercy” image, I created it because when you first hear about somebody being tortured, what comes to your mind is “mercy,” That is what these victims need and what torturers should practice instead of revenge.
I also contributed to pieces created by other artists. That’s the great thing about team work. We all helped each other. I helped Moeen Gharbi aka Meen One, a Tunisian graffiti artist, because his piece was one of the biggest. There was a deadline for finishing the work, so I helped Moeen fill in the colors for his piece.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how are you engaged in supporting human rights in your country this year?
Last year was the only time I’ve done anything with a human rights organization or any kind of movement. I took part in the Libyan revolution, but on my own.
I would be more than happy to do more work with human rights organizations in the future.
As for the cause of human rights in general, I am going to keep doing what I have been doing, namely, to try and find the right message for the right time, and make a difference through art.
I like to draw political phrases or words that motivate people such as “Never Give In,” “Rise Up,” “If we could make it through the night, we’ll see the sun,” “Fly with Your Dreams,” and “Freedom”,…
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
Nowadays, I am trying to survive. I have a lot of work I want to do, but I have not had the chance. Not only is it dangerous to make graffiti in Benghazi now, but it is also dangerous to simply leave the house.