MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Artist and reformer Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son credited with brokering Tripoli’s stand-off with the West, kept Russian relations warm on Monday when he showed off his paintings.
“It is good here, we are friends,” said the shaven-headed 38-year-old, before guiding Russian officials through the exhibit “The Desert is Not Silent,” made up of around 50 of his own paintings along with Roman and Libyan antiques.
Traveling through western cities from London to Montreal over the last eight years, the exhibit is a tribute to the rich landscapes and animals of Libya, said Saif al-Islam, who was educated in Britain and has a fondness for pet tigers.
“Paper Tiger,” from 2001, depicts his beloved, now-deceased big cat Fredo clawing his way out of a white canvas. Many others show the outlines of pre-historic animals spread across the golden and crimson hues of the Libyan desert.
“This is to show our Russian friends that not only do we buy weapons and sell gas and oil, but we have culture, art and history,” Saif al-Islam told reporters as a Libyan folk ensemble clad in silk slippers blasted out music.
But three of the paintings highlight conflict with the West.
“Intifada,” also from 2001, features a young fist clenching a stone with splashes of blood. News clippings of an Israeli raid and a Palestinian funeral have been glued over thick oil paint. “War” features the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
2000’s “The Challenge” depicts cross-touting crusaders on the shores of a desolate beach, with a sepia picture of his father Muammar Gaddafi looking down defiantly from the sky.
Saif al-Islam has the highest public profile of any of Gaddafi’s sons and though he holds no official role is seen as a potential successor to his father.
At Monday evening’s opening, he denied interest in following his father’s footsteps, telling Reuters: “I‘m not planning to be a leader. I‘m not planning to be a king.”
Influential Moscow mayor of 18 years Yuri Luzhkov said Saif al-Islam’s exhibit was representative of the “unique friendship” between Russia and Libya, who have agreed on a series of arms and energy deals over the last two years.
State-owned Russian Railways, currently involved in a high-speed link along Libya’s Mediterranean Coast, co-sponsored the exhibit.
Analysts say Gaddafi’s son has little support from the army, whose endorsement is seen as vital if he is to have a political future if he were to replace his father, who with 40 years at the helm in Libya is Africa’s longest-serving leader.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, additional reporting by Salah Sarrar, editing by Paul Casciato