The Gaddafi Archive: A Dictator’s Life – Photography Exhibition

words Alexa Wang

Showing as part of the London Festival of Photography The Gaddafi Archive – Libya before the Arab Spring takes a long hard look at the recent history of Libya. The The Gaddafi Archive: A Dictator’s Life – Photography Exhibition begins with the reign of King Idris and spans the cruel and despotic regime of Colonel Gaddafi. It includes a thought provoking collection of archive photographs and should  hopefully shed some light on this traumatic period in the country’s recent history. It doesn’t shy away from the Libya human rights violations.

As the Arab Spring continues to unfurl leaving history in its wake we have the chance to look back to a time when brutal dictators in the region went largely unchallenged. Indeed they were sometimes even encouraged by western leaders who cosied up to their favoured hard men who meanwhile were subjecting their own people to torture or disappearance if they dared to step put if line. Who can forget Tony Blair’s now infamous ‘hug a dictator’ moment as he warmly embraced Colonel Gaddafi. This captured moment is replayed over and over and hopefully Mr Blair gets to see it each and every time.

The Gaddafi Archive: A Dictator’s Life – Photography Exhibition has been carefully collated and includes photographs and documents, artefacts and videos. The dictator is seen with visiting leaders smiling for the camera, relaxing in the desert with friends. He turned Libya into his own personal kingdom and used it to play out his fantasies. Anyone that crossed him was subject to his wrath or mercy as he saw fit. Knowing what we know now these images are haunting – like looking back at fragments of a terrible dream in the cold light of day.

Also included in the exhibition are pictures and documents from state intelligence buildings and destroyed Gaddafi residences that were found by Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director Peter Bouckaert. These were recorded and photographed at the sites. Videos and essays by Human Rights Watch will contextualise the organisation’s work in Libya and highlight some of the issues faced by the Libyan people today. The Gaddafi Archive Photography Exhibition exhibition looks beyond the smiles and the overblown propaganda to the day to day nastiness that lay at the heart of the regime. Maybe Libya now can look to the future.

The Gaddafi Archive: A Dictator’s Life – Photography Exhibition is on until 29 June. Tickets cost only £7.50 and can be bought online or at the door (cash only). For more information go to


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