- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Saif al-Qaddafi is not just a dictator’s son turned international party boy turned charismatic reformer turned brutal paranoid headcase, he’s also a painter. Though judging by these images from Getty, not a particularly good one. Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian‘s review of his 2002 exhibition at London’s Kensington Gardens, titled, The Desert is Not Silent:
It would be a genuine joy to be able to say that Saif is a good artist, or even an artist. Cultural links with Libya are obviously desirable, and the Gadafy International Foundation for Charitable Associations, of which he is chair, has certainly poured money and rare museum pieces into this show.
It must have cost a packet to buy space in Kensington Gardens, where the exhibition is housed in a purpose-built marquee. The prehistoric, ancient Phoenician, Greek and Roman art from the National Museum in Tripoli is superb. It should also be said that the other contemporary artists in the show are at least competent.
But it is Saif who is the star here, taking up great tracts of wall space with paintings that just end up confirming all the old stereotypes about dictators, or dictators’ sons. Ever since Nero, there has been a depressing connection between bad art and megalomaniac regimes: Hitler the opera lover, architect and painter; Stalin the poet; Tony Blair the rock guitarist.
Colonel Gadafy’s son may be an able cultural ambassador but as a painter he is not even a gifted amateur; his sentimentality is only exceeded by his technical incapacity.
Sadly, the traveling exhibition’s website is “down for maintanance,” because I definitely want a closer look at some of these works:
His other claim to fame, his father, appears floating in the sky, in sunglasses, in a painting entitled The Challenge. Christians, dressed in penitents’ robes with pointy hats, carry crosses on an empty, desolate beach. Beyond burns the sun. Over them looms the spectral figure of an eagle – and overlooking everything, Libya’s leader, daddy, Colonel Gadafy. The catalogue explains that Saif painted this during the international embargo on Libya, and that it refers to Gadafy’s defeat of “the powers of the new crusade”. Libya was as strong as a rock “against which the arrogance of the neo-crusaders was broken”. In the new world order, Gadafy became “the unique eagle”.
These photos below the jump from exhibitions in Moscow and Sao Paolo do give an idea of what we’re dealing with. (And yes, loyal Passport readers, that is famously corrupt former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and, I’m pretty sure, oligarch Oleg Deripaska looking on):