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, called “No to Torture – A Libyan Experience.” The film captures the hope and energy felt by artists and activists in Libya only a 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°6: Eslam Jaffar aka EJ
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Drawing and sketching from a young age, EJ started creating caricature drawings, before concentrating exclusively on graffiti.
Despite the difficulties and dangers in his hometown of Benghazi, EJ does not seem afraid of anything, when it comes to graffiti and practicing his art. When asked about his safety and the risks of traveling, he answered quietly “staying in my living-room is
unsafe too, when you live in Benghazi a bomb may fall on it.”
What sort of memories do you have from last year’s events in Tripoli?
Those were amazing days. There are no words to describe what I felt. I learned a lot and gave a lot too. I really remember it as the most beautiful moment I have ever experienced in my life. I remember the smiles and joy we shared together. I cannot remember how many hours we stayed there, so excited to paint on the walls. We learned from each other, helped each other, and laughed together.
Personally, my level of drawing advanced as a result of the experience. In particular, I owe Moeen [Tunisian artist Moeen Gharbi aka Meen One] a lot because he taught me many things.
What meaning do the graffiti pieces you made for last year’s events have and why did you choose to paint them?
I chose to paint the word “Agony” because in my mind it does the most to convey the meaning of torture and terrible pain that leads to death. At the same time, I also felt Libya itself was dying.
I also contributed to the piece representing the word “Change,” together with Nadir [Nadir Elmalti aka Porto], Jumaa, and Khalil, who are other artists from Benghazi. I also helped Ammar [Egyptian artist Ammar Abo Bakr] with his salamander piece.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how are you engaged in support of human rights in your country this year?
I participated in several events with human rights organizations in Benghazi, especially at the beginning of the revolutionary uprising. I contributed to the revolution through graffiti too. I made lots of pieces, during that time. The first one I did was a caricature of Muammar Gaddafi, who I represented as a monster. After completing this piece, I was offered the opportunity to work with a young journal called
“Shabab el Watan” (“Youth of the nation”) to draw cartoons and caricatures. At the journal, I had the chance to work with Qais El-Helali [A talented cartoonist who was shot dead on March 20, 2011 in Benghazi after he painted a large Gaddafi caricature with the tag line “Monkey of the monkeys of Africa”]. Unfortunately, the magazine closed down in 2012.
I also participated in events marking the International Day for Refugees in 2012. I volunteered my time and distributed food and clothes. We also organized a concert on the occasion.
This year, I participated in OMCT’s Human Rights Day event, this time in Tunis, with Tunisian and Libyan artists.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
I was able to do graffiti outside until October 14, which was my last day painting in Benghazi this year. On October 15, the street war started here. Since then, I cannot do anything outside because it is not safe. But I try to continue as much as I can. For instance, I made a graffiti piece indoors, in a kind of shop.