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°8: Anas Mohammed
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Originally from Zuwara and living in Tripoli, Anas Mohammed is among the most civically active youth in the Libyan capital. At 19 years-old, he is an engineering student with two important hobbies: painting and volunteering with charitable organizations. While prioritizing his engineering studies, Anas is considering studying design and becoming an artist. He believes that, in art, he can improve through practice. Through hard work, Anas has taught himself how to do 3D graffiti and become one of the country’s few specialists in the field, along with his painting partner and friend Mohammed Shandool.
What sort of memories do you have from last year’s events in Tripoli?
The thing I most remember is the workshop I participated in with Ammar Abo Bakr [Egyptian graffiti artist]. I learned about ideas captured in Egyptian graffiti murals, which also fit the Libyan context and that I could use in my own paintings and drawings.
I remember how strong the sun was and how tired I became while painting in Martyrs’ square [Tripoli central square]. We painted from the morning throughout the entire day. But this is the nice thing about painting. The exhaustion remains in your body and you feel the artistic work in you long after you have finished.
What meaning do the graffiti pieces you made for last year’s events have and why did you choose to paint them?
I made the image with my friend Mohammed
Shandool. To be honest, the idea for it came to us as we were creating the image. We tried to capture the idea that, even after the revolution and the liberation, some oppression continues and chains remain. The character we created is trying to rid himself of his chains, but there is a hand pulling him back underground. There are people who are trying to help the old regime stage a come back. The character is, however, trying to escape this trap. The main purpose of the image is to encourage people to try and overcome these obstacles.
How did you learn to do 3D graffiti techniques?
On YouTube. I learned the basics and then applied what I had learned. I did a lot of drawings on paper first, and then I made some pieces on the street. I made three of them before last year’s Human Rights Day event: one for the Festival “Creativity without borders,” one for a mural exhibition in “Camp 77,” and the last one in the neighborhood where I live.
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 learned about this day after the revolution. Before I was too young to know what it was. There was no celebration of this day in Libya, during the Gaddafi regime.
I do not directly work with human rights organizations, but I try to help people in my country by raising awareness about different issues. For instance, in conjunction with the organization “Flame of the Capital,” I participated in many awareness raising campaigns about the new constitution, explaining to the people what the constitution is, how it is drafted, and its significance. The Camp 77 event I mentioned before [Camp 77 was a Gaddafi military area that was bombed during the war] was sponsored by this organization, and involved artists painting on the camp’s walls.
I volunteer with many other charity organizations too. I am a member of the organization “Hobha Ebniha” (“Love It, Build It”), an organization which started after the revolution, with many active young members. We help poor people in Tripoli, providing meals for Ramadan and clothes for Eid feasts. We promote awareness campaigns about various topics, including the importance of receiving an education for all children.
I participated with “Ahsan Libya” (‘A Better Libya’) in a national campaign to fight breast cancer, and with “Khawater Libya” (‘Thoughts of Libya’) on a day celebrating Libya’s Heritage.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
There is an exhibition planned for February 25 with a group of artists with whom I’m friends. I will participate in it if I can. I do not know yet where it will be, but the organizers are looking for a venue. The problem is that I do not have much time these days. All my energy goes to my studies and volunteering for associations.