Resistance, Rebellion & Revolution, opening on 19 August at London gallery HOXTON 253, explores the life and works of the late Libyan artist and satirist, Hasan ‘Alsatoor’ Dhaimish (1955-2016).
Coinciding with the ten-year anniversary of the Libyan revolution, the exhibition features samples of his anti-Gaddafi regime, pro-human rights illustrations that were published between 1980 and 2016. His cartoons were relentless, brutally honest, and were received with laughter by most and anger by others.
For the first time, Alsatoor’s cartoons are exhibited in print alongside a series of paintings he produced while living in exile in the UK.
Hasan left Benghazi, Libya, in 1975 at age 19. He settled in Burnley, Lancashire, and soon started publishing his critical cartoons in magazines. Over the years he gained momentum and popularity, developing a style parallel to technological developments. With the rise of the internet came a new global audience: it was during the 2000s when he became Libya’s most notorious and prolific satirist, operating covertly under the pseudonym, Alsatoor (The Cleaver).
Away from his satire, Hasan produced artworks influenced by jazz and blues, which were musical genres he felt deeply connected to due to his life in exile. From portraits of musicians to vibrant-coloured collages, his work is from his soul.
Ahead of the exhibition opening, we asked Sherif Dhaimish, son of Hasan and co-curator of the exhibition alongside his sister Hanna, some questions.
How involved or aware were you during the time your father was producing work as Alsatoor?
SD: My involvement went as far as sometimes posing for a photo so he could trace it and use it for something else. In 2009 I was in Manchester where every Saturday Libyan demonstrators were in Piccadilly to raise awareness of the Abu Salim Prison massacre in 1996, where over 1,200 men were murdered by the Libyan government. The banner was very powerful, and it featured an artwork image done by my dad with all these figures into the shadows. I remember him using me to create those figure, it was surreal seeing it in context.
I was aware of his work for a long time, but in all honesty its impact on others and its importance went well over my head. He purposely kept us away from Libyan politics. People might not understand, but Alsatoor was just something my dad sometimes did when he was sat at his computer. Most of the art he produced and poured his soul into whilst I was growing up wasn’t the cartoons people tend to associate with him. There was much more to his work than that, as the exhibition hopefully demonstrates.
You have curated the exhibition alongside your sister Hanna. When did you decide that you wanted to display and archive your father’s work and how did you manage the curation process? How have your family and extended family responded to the work you have done?
It’s all just been a natural progression. Someone had to, and we’ve just decided to roll with it. Archiving his satire and, let’s call it, ‘Libyan’ work is of interest to a lot of people, as it’s a unique political commentary on a geopolitically important country. But for me, it’s much more fun to work with his artworks. They tended to pay homage to Libya and Africa in subtle ways, as well as incorporate his love for music and colour. I’d say it’s a much better representation of his personality.
Do you have a favourite illustration or artwork on display?
Funky Sixteen Corners. What’s not to love?
It is clear that music was a great influence to your father and his work. Is there much overlap in his political and musical artwork?
No, not really. There are some really cool murals he did during 2011 that incorporated elements of his art into Alsatoor’s work, but I think there’s a distinct difference in the two styles of work – one is for an audience, the other is more personal and expressive. He saw Alsatoor as more a necessity to fight again corruption in his home country than a hobby.
He produced art away from Alsatoor as a way to escape politics. He suffered with bouts of depression, which could have been a result of his life in exile, but also following politics too closely can’t be healthy. It’s a depressing world. This is why sometimes he would totally tune out of Alsatoor, often for months on end, because he knew what a load of bollocks politics was in Libya. Isn’t that what his duty as a satirist is – making a mockery of the political landscape?
What are your future plans for the work?
Who knows. We’ve got a show in Leeds in November, which should be great. I’m hoping York and Manchester will also be on the cards in 2022, and of course into the Arab world when travel becomes easier. A big next step is to try and display his artworks in places like jazz clubs and festivals across the world, particularly the US and Latin and South America, which are places a lot of his work was influenced by. I’m conscious of his work being pigeon-holed as ‘Arab art’; I find such terms restrictive to the audiences you reach and how the work is received. I’ve taken on the (perhaps overly) ambitious task of exhibiting his satire and paintings, and the only real commonality is that they were produced by the same man under the same conditions, hence the exhibition’s title. But art is a universal language and I think my dad’s work can bring joy into many people’s lives across the world, so I’ll do my best to do that.
Resistance, Rebellion & Revolution is on display at HOXTON 253 from 19-29 August 2021 – plan your visit here. You can also attend the Opening Night event on 18 August where from 4-9pm you can book a slot to visit, peruse the artworks and speak with the curators Sherif and Hanna Dhaimish.
Coinciding with the exhibition at HOXTON 253 is a new, live archive of Hasan’s work presenting over 5,000 pieces of satire he produced over his long, illustrious career, and a broad selection of his paintings.
There is also a new book, Hasan ‘Alsatoor’ Dhaimish – A Libyan Artist in Exile (Pendle Press, 2021), available to pre-order at all bookstores.