graffiti in Libya: mocking a dictator

photo by Rory Mulholland, The Guardian

Rory Mulholland writes of the new graffiti critiques of Libyan dictator Qaddafi in The Guardian.  Smooth documentation of some cool art.  I liked this paragraph:

The revolution has lifted the lid on a repressed society and the people of Benghazi are making up for the lost years. They have quickly set up newspapers, radio stations and rap bands to say things that just a few months earlier would have got them locked up or worse. But the Gaddafi caricatures are the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression.

via The Libyan artists driving Gaddafi to the wall | World news | The Observer.

I’ll also note that this graffiti proves the inability of the dictatorship to control the image and the word.  The people can now circumvent state controls, and graffiti is one of the modes of communication which is most likely to allow for anonymity.  Vital for earnest criticism, especially when the subject of critique is likely to shoot you.  I suspect that a fair number of westerners who have been inculcated into the moral panic associated with graffiti read the heavily painted walls of various Arab spring uprisings with anxiety.

It strikes me as a deeply authentic medium of expression which emerges in the context of necessity.  Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and China have all used internet blockades to prevent people from communicating with each other during community mobilizations.  Painting in the street became part of internal communication and collective articulation.

Look again at the painting above.  This image communicates something about the area in which it is painted.  It might mean relative safety from repression, it might be a meeting point, it might even allow non-involved citizens to avoid areas where there might be fighting.   Speaking nothing of the ability of such an image to crack through the conditioning of decades of unquestioning obedience to a terrifying force.

Remember Timisoara?  It’s a small Romanian town, where in 1989, a few citizens rallied around a pastor being bullied by the dictatorship.  After troops were used to put down the protests, a few more people started to make some noise and the town was put under martial law.  To rally the citizens the wretched dictator Nicholau Ceausescu gave a live TV broadcast.  When the crowd started to chant Timisoara and push against security forces, Ceausecu’s face went blank, and seventy six percent of the citizens who were watching got an image they had never seen before — evil on it’s heels.

And a few hours later, Ceausescu was dead.

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Filed under art, human rights, propaganda

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