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Dead Gaddafi in triplicate

Three major artists—Jenny Saville, Yan Pei-Ming and Luca del Baldo—have created paintings of the corpse of the deposed Libyan dictator

Luca del Baldo’s Ubu Roi, Gaddafi’s Head

Three major artists—Jenny Saville, Yan Pei-Ming and Luca del Baldo—have chosen the corpse of the deposed Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, as the subject matter for paintings, with Luca del Baldo’s work due to go on show in Italy in December.

“I think [this tendency] is because it [Gaddafi’s body] is a shocking and iconic image; also, Western media tend not to ‘do’ dead people unless they were famous or notorious, so they are a little bit exotic in our everyday experience,” says the leading curator David Elliott.

Rebel forces captured Gaddafi in October last year after months of conflict across Libya; an autopsy confirmed that he died from a bullet to the head.

“An image of a dead dictator taken from the media is more powerful, and more shocking, than, say, Damien Hirst’s shark,” says Del Baldo. The artist’s Gaddafi is due to go on show at the Centro Congressi Medioevo in Como.

The UK artist Jenny Saville is also working on a painting of Gaddafi’s body, which she discussed in a forum at Modern Art Oxford. “What I found most disturbing about the [press] images was not Gaddafi’s body, or the light, but the telephones. [There was] this incredible body lying out in this cold storage unit with hundreds of hands holding telephones.”

Meanwhile, a painting of the dead dictator by the Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming shows a figure in isolation. “Everything else around the body has been left out of the composition, which further shrouds the scene in mystery,” says a statement from New York’s David Zwirner gallery, which showed the work earlier this year.

Jenny Saville with her portrait of Gaddafi (Photo: © Pal Hansen)
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3 Dec 12
18:16 CET


These paintings do not glorify the man or the violence. They are images of a real event. They give us a glimpse of humanity at it's rawest. The brutality of the man and his regime, the pain of the people, the way the media glorified what happened and we all watched as it was 'news'. They present the defining reality that death is bigger than us, we have of power over it regardless of our power in life. It comes to us all, whether violently for the world to see or quietly and alone. And don't they tell us something about the pleasure we find in others demise? Personally the media coverage of his death saddened me, not because I felt anything for him for who he was but purely becuase he was a human. The murder of anyone should not be celebrated in my opinion, regardless of their life choices or impact. And ultimately the fact remains not that we like dead bodies but that we love the depiction of these events in the media. We are the problem, not the paintings.

8 Oct 12
15:28 CET


Wherever there's an opportunity, there's an "artist". This glorifies the man and extends the spectacle of violence. Such art is part of the problem, not any sort of healing or solution. Too much like photography and appropriation, the painter as photoshop.

5 Oct 12
15:0 CET


this reminds me of the baader and Meinhof paintings bye Gerhard Richter. thesis work feels speculative because these artists were not directly involved in the past with political events

5 Oct 12
15:1 CET


Without a title, he would be just another victim of violence. Titles create class distinctions to impress viewers. Millions die with no status to their rotting corpses. Do we like dead bodies?

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