The son of Libyan cartoonist ‘AlSatoor’ on life with his revolutionary father
When Sherif Dhaimish was a young boy growing up in Burnley, northwest England, he had no idea his father was an internationally renowned Libyan political satirist who was also wanted by the Gaddafi regime.
“I was aware that my father was a designer and that he was Libyan, but I didn’t know what that really meant,” says Sherif. The National by Hasan “AlSatoor” Dhaimish, the prolific cartoonist who died in the UK in 2016.
Controversial, funny, brutally honest and often offensive, AlSatoor began publishing his cartoons in 1980 and has provided a unique take on Libyan politics over the decades.
Realizing that he was not the only one who did not know the scope and significance of AlSatoor, Sherif decided to create an online archive to immortalize his father’s work.
“The more I pulled on the thread, the more I knew how important and powerful his story was and how important it was to uphold his legacy,” Sherif says, over the phone from his home in London where he now lives.
Featuring more than 6,000 original images of the late satirist, the site alsatoor.com is part of a larger project called Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution – A Libyan Artist in Exile. The Arts Council England-backed project will also feature an exhibition in London later this summer, a performance in Leeds and a life biography of Hasan, written by his son. The satirical works are presented alongside a colorful collection of works of art produced by Hasan that reflect his life as an exiled man.
“Its story deserves to be celebrated and told, not only for Libyans, but for anyone who can relate to fighting a higher power and anyone who appreciates art,” Sherif says.
Born in 1955 in Benghazi, east of the newly unified and self-governing Libyan kingdom, Hasan’s exposure to power and politics came at a young age. His father, Sheikh Mahmoud Dhaimish, was the king’s religious adviser and whose cartoonist said he inherited his “spirit of rebellion” and his commitment to “stand with the weak”. Wanting to encourage his son’s artistic talents, Sheikh Mahmoud introduced him to Mohammed Al-Zawawi, Libya’s first recognized political cartoonist, who mentored Hasan and encouraged him to draw caricatures.
On the one hand, people saw this ruthless satirist who drew on humanistic issues, relentless and prolific, and on the other hand, you had an artist grappling with things in his own life that didn’t fit. Hasan dhaimish
Raised under the aegis of the Libyan monarchy, Hasan did not react particularly warmly to the military coup of 1969. Sherif says his father was suspicious of Muammar Gaddafi and told him that the revolution had turned his life upside down.
By the time Hasan left Libya in 1975, Gaddafi’s repressive and violent authoritarianism had solidified and encouraged the young man to pursue his dream of traveling.
As a 19-year-old music lover and party animal arriving in England in the mid-1970s, Hasan, according to his son Sherif, was drawn to reggae festivals, nightclubs and the psychedelic scene, and resisted calls to return home in Libya. . Shortly after meeting and marrying Karen Waddington in 1979, her hometown of Brierfield, near Burnley in the North West of England, became her new home.
Although he was not a fan of the Libyan regime, Hasan had not been proactively involved in political movements, but a chance observation during a trip to London in 1980 was a game-changer.
Behind some magazines, in an Arab newsstand, was an orange magazine called Al-Jihad, one of the most prominent Libyan opposition publications in the country at the time. Inspired by revolutionary rhetoric, Hasan came into contact with Al-Jihad and started producing cartoons for them, launching his career as well as his political activism.
The 1980s were a notoriously dangerous time for Libyans everywhere. Between 1980 and 1987, assassination squads were sent around the world, targeting Libyan dissidents whom Gaddafi called “stray dogs.”
As the only Libyan for miles around in Burnley, Hasan was less exposed than those in London, but the dangers to him and his family were just as real. The use of Hasan’s pseudonym, AlSatoor – which means “the ax” – gave him some protection and added to the enigma surrounding the cartoonist as his popularity grew over the years.
During a hiatus in the early 1990s, Hasan returned to education, learning computer science, taking a BA in illustration, and becoming a teacher himself. It was also the time for him to explore his other artistic pursuits, notably paintings inspired by jazz because of the connection he felt with the “suffering and persecution” of blacks in America and in his country of origin.
Although less well known, Sherif says his father’s artistic works are just as important to understanding the man as his cartoons.
“On the one hand, people saw this ruthless satirist who took his inspiration from humanistic issues, relentless and prolific, and on the other hand, you had an artist grappling with things in his own life and who didn’t care. did not integrate, ”he says.
The rise of the internet has brought about crucial changes in Hasan’s work and energy. Hasan was able to use his knowledge of graphics and technology to reach a wider audience. Using a series of satellites installed on the roof of their house, Sherif says his father’s access to Libyan news channels revolutionized AlSatoor’s work, as he could now extract and manipulate sound and video directly. from television, including Gaddafi’s notoriously divided long speeches.
Her work began to reach people all over the world when it was posted on various Libyan news websites, her own blog, and social media.
While the new tools at his disposal have changed his style over the decades, his staunch opposition to Gaddafi and his regime has remained steadfast. Despite complaints and unfettered threats from the Libyan authorities and their supporters, Hasan’s work continued unabated.
When the Libyan uprising began in February 2011, Hasan’s pen was ready. At the end of his teaching day, Hasan would come home and draw until the early hours of the morning. That year alone, Sherif says he counted over 1,100 cartoons that his father produced for his blog. Hasan was soon invited to join the newly formed pro-revolutionary Libya Al-Ahrar TV channel in Doha.
Although Gaddafi has always been his primary target, after the fall of the regime Hasan continued to point his pen at Libya’s weakened political landscape. From parliamentarians, Western diplomats and politicians, to religious figures and journalists, no one could escape his sketches. As socio-political issues erupted across the country, AlSatoor watched and – no longer needing the appearance of a pseudonym – released his humorous reviews.
Calling it his father’s “golden age of satire,” Sherif says his father’s work is a testament to his tireless commitment to free speech. Nonetheless, he recognizes the emotional, physical and personal toll this has caused the man who, for the sake of personal freedom and political conviction, lived and died in exile, never seeing his parents again or smelling the sand. of Libya under his feet.