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Art During Wartime

Sculptor Ali al-Wakwak, a Benghazi native, creates rusty configurations, large enough to climb upon, resembling humans, animals, and insects. The sculptures are made from the leftover wreckage of Libya’s revolution.
September 4, 2012, 11:00am

Photo by Karim Mostafa

On the waterfront in central Benghazi, Libya, sits one of the city’s grandest houses—a sprawling structure first owned by the Italian colonialists, then King Idris, then Muammar Gaddafi, and now, unofficially, the former rebels who currently occupy it. But the old house is nothing compared to the dozens of sculptures in front of it: rusty configurations, large enough to climb upon, resembling humans, animals, and insects, constructed from leftover wreckage from last year’s revolution.

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The sculptor, Ali al-Wakwak, a Benghazi native, started creating his debris sculptures only a few months into the revolution. “I began in May,” he said, “when things were very intense. There was a need for expression. And plenty of material everywhere.” Ali gathered what he could find from the battlefield: chunks of iron, tossed weapons, old military vehicles. He then moved his studio to the mansion in Benghazi, where he began creating sculptures that told the story of the former regime and the struggle that toppled it.

“There’s a big dinosaur at the entrance which represents Gaddafi,” he said. “Just like the dinosaurs, he’s now extinct.” He proudly showed me a figure with a skirt made up of hundreds of empty bullet shells. “She signifies the strength of Libyan women. They played a huge role in the revolution, that’s why I made her so tall.” In the distance stood a giant ant, made from rifles and a corroded military jeep. “It’s a symbol of the Libyan people,” he said. “Gaddafi called us insects, so I said: ‘OK, we’re ants—but we’re huge ants!’”

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