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 released 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 at the Human Rights Day events, and how circumstances have changed in their lives, Libya, and the region as a whole, since then.
N°2: Ryan Azabi, aka Ray-One
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Certainly one of the best B-boys (break-dancers) in Libya, at only twenty-three years old, Ray-One has already traveled a great deal to represent his country in hip-hop competitions. He is also the Libyan member of a crew of break dancers from the Maghreb, including Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian break-dancers. The group recently performed in Tunis and London in shows and workshops.
Multi-talented, Ray-One comes from Tripoli’s Ain Zara neighborhood. In addition to break-dancing, he also practices graffiti, and hopes to develop the cultural scene in Libya by organizing hip-hop events in the city.
What sort of memories do you have from last year’s events in Tripoli?
I gained a lot of new knowledge about graffiti writing, as well as about different cultures. Every artist has his own way and special kind of art. I was so proud to see everyone working together as a group. Based on what I saw, there was no hate at all.
There were also a lot of crazy moments between me and Meen One, Bohly, Ammar Abo Bakr [other artists from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt who attended the event]. We laughed a lot, because it was not just about work; it was about making human connections, sharing knowledge and perspectives. It was not like just attending an event or workshop and going home – I was also involved on a personal level.
What meaning do the graffiti pieces you made for last year’s events have and why did you choose to paint them?
I created an image of a snake that says “human rights.” The body of the snake contains the word “human,” and “rights” near its head. I chose to do this because, for me, human rights has always been “eaten.” I see no human rights in Libya. The snake, which represents violence, ate all the human rights. That is why he has the letters inside his body. My tag “Ray-One” is in front of the snake’s head to show it will eat me next. The snake leaves no one behind.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how are you engaged in support of human rights in your country this year?
As I said, there are no human rights in Libya, but I’m over that. I’m thinking of the next generation. The youth in Libya have lost. There are only a few survivors.
I’m trying to do what I believe is right. There is nothing going on here for Human Rights Day this year. Some people are celebrating but they just stand in one place. I might see if I can hold my next Hip-Hop Jam on Human Rights Day. It would be great if that could happen. I’m always busy with hip-hop events and travel lot. I don’t get much time to be engaged here in Tripoli, but if I get the chance, I do it. I love supporting the work taking place here. I would love to do more. At least, I make the effort to share and open people’s minds, wherever I go.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
I am currently preparing an event in Tripoli, a Hip-Hop Jam with B-boying, MCing, graffiti writing, and also with workshops. I’m planning to invite a friend from Tunisia who is a DJ, in order to also have a DJing workshop. The event will be in some secret spot, full of graffiti art, very underground and old-school. The place is secret for security reasons. We don’t need trouble.
I’m going to share a poster about the event, but only on Facebook. Everything is hard now in Libya, but I’m not worried. I’m organizing everything on my own. I have friends who are going to act as staff, so I know everyone who will be involved. It will take place in December or at the beginning of the New Year.
In February, I’ll travel again to Tunisia and then London for shows with the Maghreb crew. We are becoming international, and performing in various countries.
As for graffiti, I haven’t done much recently, except sketching on paper, because I’ve been traveling a lot for my B-boying work and am now focused on the Hip-Hop Jam event.