One of the key concerns of my work has been the attempt to photograph things that can no longer be seen. My interest in this paradox arises from a kind of intuition that the past remains, and that history’s traces are somehow imprinted on the spaces, buildings and landscapes where significant events have taken place.
A specific personal loss has accentuated and deepened this pre-existing intuition. When my father-in-law, a Libyan political dissident, was forcibly disappeared, I became vividly aware of how absence can become a presence among the people and the places where the lost once lived.
My father-in-law's disappearance was part of a larger story of political struggle in Libya. After the 2011 revolution, I wanted to photograph specific locations where atrocities had taken place under the Gaddafi regime. Libyans knew and spoke of the events that occurred at these sites, but almost all of the evidence had been destroyed.
Each of the images in this body of work document a building or place where an atrocity has taken place. It has not been an accident that I have pointed my camera towards architecture and the physical places where human rights abuses occurred. The buildings are some of the few lasting symbols that relate to the crimes, and their existance stands in as a kind of imperfect evidence to events that went undocumented under the regime.
Information regarding what occurred at the sites where these photographs were taken.
Portrait of a young political prisoner killed in the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre.
On April 7th, 1977 Omar Dabboub and Mohammed bin Saud were executed by public hanging at this street corner in Benghazi. Dabboub a student, and bin Saud, a teacher, had been taking part in a peaceful street protest at Benghazi University. Their bodies were left hanging for days.
The recent war was not the first time Gaddafi used mercenaries to fight against his own people. These mercenary barracks were one of the first buildings to be burned during the uprising because they were a symbol of Gaddafi's long-standing use of foreign troops to put down dissent.
This marks the entrance to an underground bunker in Gaddafi's Benghazi compound. Human rights’ workers found secret rooms, cells and torture chambers within the bunker.
On Feb 17th 2008, the mayor of Benghazi, Huda Ben Amer, ordered the shooting of peaceful demonstrators on this street. They were protesting against Danish cartoons defaming the prophet Mohammad. Gaddafi had appointed Amer mayor of Benghazi twice after she showed ruthless support in the hanging of dissident Hamed al - Shuwehdi in 1984. Libyans called her Huda the executioner when she demanded Shuwedi's immediate execution on national television. Viewers were shocked as she pulled the chair from under Shuwehdi's hanging body then tugged on his legs to make sure he was dead.
Gaddafi forces fired on an unarmed funeral procession from this field in Benghazi killing four people.
On June 29th, 1996, it is estimated by Human Rights Watch, that 1270 political prisoners were massacred in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.
Witnesses including guards that were forced to shoot prisoners at gunpoint have said many of the bodies were put in lorry containers and thrown into the sea.
A sub-Saharan African religious symbol stands above an unearthed field on the Gaddafi compound in Benghazi. Underneath were found a labyrinth of tunnels, underground cells and torture chambers as well as the remains of unburied bodies.
Government troops fired from tanks on civilian residences in this outer Benghazi neighborhood.
A block of prison cells on the Gaddafi compound in Benghazi.
During the dictatorship many legal professionals tried to keep the courts independent, however, numerous cases were made here at the main courthouse in Benghazi against individuals charging them with crimes against the regime. During and after the revolution this courthouse became the epicenter of civilian resistance.
Property used by the Khamees Brigade. The brigade – headed by Gaddafi’s youngest son Khamees - was Libya’s strongest military unit. On august 23rd, 2011, guards of the brigade opened fire on over 100 people detained in a warehouse. Human Rights workers found the remains of 45 people inside.
The Revolutionary Committee Building in Tripoli. The Revolutionary Committees were set up by Gaddafi. Under his direct command the committees carried out “corruption trials” in which a defendant had no legal counsel and no right of appeal. Also under his direct command they carried out the assassination of opposition members abroad. In the late 1980s Gaddafi distanced himself from the revolutionary committees and admitted to their carrying torture and use of excessive force.
In front of the port of Benghazi. Ahmed Fouhad Fathala, an Egyptian living in Benghazi, was executed by public hanging in front of the Benghazi Port on April 6th 1977.
A pro Gaddafi loyalist was beaten to death by anti Gaddafi demonstrators at this site in Benghazi in Feb 2011.Image 15:
A prison cellblock on the Gaddafi compound in Benghazi.
Purdy Hicks Gallery London, UK. 2016.
Fotofest International, Houston Texas, USA. 2016.
Paris Photo. 2015. Purdy Hicks Gallery.
Biennal of Arab Photography in the XXIè. The Institut du Monde Arabe et Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris. 2015 - 2016.
Rick Wester Fine Art, New York, 2015.
Goeun Museum of Photography, Busan Korea. 2015.
Tate Modern, 2014 - 2015. Conflict Time Photography.
Museum Folkwang, Essen Germany. 2015.
Staatiche Kunstsammlungen, Dreseden Germany.
Paris Photo, 2014 Purdy Hicks Gallery.
Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.
Conflict, Time, Photography, Tate Modern Publishing.
1ere Biennale des Photographies Du Monde Arabe: Histoire(s) Contemporaine(s)
Institute du Monde Arabe e Maison Européenne de la Photographie publishing. 2015
Photoworks Annual 22: Women
Photoworks Publishing. 2015
The GoEun Museum of Photography Publishing. 2015
Ojo de Pez
Still Far Away
Issue 35. December