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°9: El Boshga aka Sektwo
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
A young master of stencils inspired by Banksy and Keizer among others, El Boshga is a student of architecture, living in the Abo Nawas
neighborhood in Tripoli. He is the stencil designer for a graffiti group and has been drawing his characters and messages all over Tripoli for the last few years. Determined to create his own style, El Boshga thinks about mixing architecture with graffiti, and knows for sure he wants to become someone in the future.
What sort of memories do you have from the December 2013 events in Tripoli?
I have good memories. I still remember all the graffiti writers participating in the event. I met very nice people and worked with some international artists and shared hip hop culture with them. I learned some new skills from Ammar [Ammar Abo Bakr, an Egyptian graffiti artist]. I still remember him telling me to remain focused until I finish each of my pieces.
What meaning do the graffiti pieces you made for the 2013 event have and why did you choose to paint them?
I made the “Rise up” image and stencil of Balotelli [a black, Italian soccer player]. I painted the phrase “Rise up” because it means a lot for people who were tortured in Libya. It is a message in support of these individuals and a call to use art in solidarity with all victims of human rights violations. In the image, Balotelli carries a sign that says “No to torture” on it. I think Balotelli must have been tortured by the racist insults he experienced while playing football in Italy.
There are many other graffiti stencils of Balotelli in Tripoli. Why do you represent him so much?
My graffiti group and I paint him a lot in the city with the sign “the Jungle’s law.” I do not particularly like Balotelli but I like the way he expresses himself. The message “Jungle’s law” refers to the state of lawlessness that was established after the 2012 parliamentary elections; the rules and the system are like a jungle.
Since then, the situation in Libya has become more and more messy, with increasing destruction, corruption, and violence. People in Libya love football and so I receive many call to do stencils of Balotelli on shops or in the streets. Sometimes people ask me to add their names or their shop’s names to the image.
I am part of a secret graffiti group called “rebels.” We try to use humor to express our message. We curse the government in a respectable way, not the way people usually do. The other members of our group spray and I cut the stencil and design the patterns.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how are you engaged in support of human rights in your country this year?
December 10 means a lot to me because I know people who were tortured during and after the revolution. I was happy to work with the World Organization against Torture and to give back something on that day.
For me, doing graffiti in Libya is a fight, to prove our art and ourselves against authoritarian rule. Two weeks after Gaddafi’s fall, I went out to the streets to start tagging.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
I am preparing new work and new stencils. But it is dangerous now. When I do a stencil and come back after a few days, I see all my stencils vandalized, like the one of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan that says “the revolution continues.” It took only one week for it to be erased. I do not know why people erased it. Maybe they think I am supporting Gaddafi.
I love all revolutionary figures and one of my next projects features Malcolm X.