A cut above

Under the pseudonym Alsatoor – The Cleaver – Hasan Dhaimish was a thorn in the Libyan regime’s side with his satirical cartoons, produced in his Burnley home

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Even in exile, the many Libyans who fled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime for the North felt the dictator’s reach. In 1984 five Libyans thought to be his agents were deported from the UK after bombings in Manchester and London targeted at his opponents. Hasan Dhaimish was one of the ones who could fight back.

Dhaimish, from Benghazi, came to Bradford in 1975, aged 19, and then on to Burnley, where he spent the rest of his life in exile. He hadn’t intended to stay.

From 1980 onwards, he began publishing pro-human rights, anti-Gaddafi regime cartoons under his pseudonym Alsatoor – Arabic for The Cleaver – and became Libya’s most relentless, brutally honest and most celebrated satirist, all from his Lancashire home.

Now his son Sherif and daughter Hanna are exhibiting his colourful life and works in Leeds. Resistance, Rebellion and Revolution will feature his political cartoons produced over four decades, as well as other artworks he produced on paper, canvas and digitally. These vividly coloured works draw on the artist’s own cultural influences, specifically jazz and Delta blues.

The cartoons began when Hasan wrote to a Libyan opposition magazine he’d seen on a newsstand outside Earl’s Court tube station on a trip to London. Although they continued until after Gaddafi was deposed in 2011, “the same brutal honesty and slapstick humour remained throughout. It was more the techniques and motifs that changed, but fundamentally it largely remained unchanged,” says Sherif.

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Hasan kept on with his cartoons while putting himself through A levels and a degree, waiting tables at a restaurant in Colne. He fathered three children in all and went on to teach at Nelson and Colne College’s graphics department.

Sherif says it wasn’t until after the 2011 revolution that he felt comfortable revealing his identity. His phone was tapped and Sherif and his sisters had their email and social media accounts hacked by Gaddafi’s regime.

“The internet instantly increased his reach to the diaspora and people inside Libya,” says Sherif. “Before then, his work was in publications that were widely distributed, but anti-regime news sites and then blogging and social media made his work readily available around the world, and also allowed him to respond to issues immediately, something he executed with perfection.”

Sherif put on an exhibition of his father’s work in London last year, and after its showing at Left Bank Leeds he’s aiming for Liverpool and Manchester too – a project he describes as a privilege.

“He taught a lot of people and knew a lot of people, but not everyone was aware of his story. And those who don’t know him can always find some connection with his story and his work.”

Hasan, who died in 2016, would rather have stuck to painting than political cartoons but his commitment to a free Libya over-rode that desire. He worked feverishly during the 2011 revolution but didn’t always maintain his hope for a country that, post-Gaddafi, remains in political turmoil, its first presidential elections since then now postponed.

Sherif says it’s hard to fully assess his legacy. “But I know he has a lasting legacy in Libya, as he’s considered someone who promoted freedom of speech and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on a whole range of political and social issues. It’s evident he inspired many, which is a great achievement.”

Resistance, Rebellion & Revolution is at Left Bank Leeds, 17-23 Feb

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