Wilhelm Sasnal

Gaddafi 2


Wilhelm Sasnal born 1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 800 × 1000 mm
Presented by the Roman Family Collection 2014


Gaddafi 2 depicts a group of rebel fighters looking at, and taking images of, the body of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by rebels on 20 October 2011. The figure on the right is caught in the process of filming the scene, which forms the central action of the image. The mediation of the event, first through video footage, which was broadcast on the news worldwide, then through the translation of some of these images into painting, is elevated to the central subject matter of the work. Gaddafi 2 is the second in a group of three paintings based on digital images of the violent death of Gaddafi, the others being Gaddafi 1 2011 (Tate T14241) and Gaddafi 3 2011 (Tate T14242). It is rare for Sasnal to make the relationship of his paintings to digital imagery so explicit, whereas the dramatic cropping, stark palette and obscured facial features are all highly typical of his approach.

Rebel fighters captured Gaddafi hiding with his bodyguards in a large drainage pipe. In a series of frenzied events the dictator was wounded (either by shrapnel or gunshots) before being pulled from his hideout and killed, with conflicting accounts as to the exact means of his death. Mobile phone video footage of his last moments was quickly broadcast around the world. Within days of this taking place Sasnal decided to turn three key images of the events into paintings of different styles and scale in an attempt to rescue them for posterity and from the deluge of news imagery. Gaddafi 1 depicts the corpse of the deposed dictator lying on a mattress in an empty room. Gaddafi 3, the largest of the three paintings, depicts the body of Gaddafi lying on a mattress, surrounded by a group of rebel fighters.

Born in Poland where he studied at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, Sasnal has produced works on paper, photographs and films in addition to painting. He typically identifies a digital image online – rather than an image printed in a newspaper or an analogue photographic print – on which to base his painting. Most paintings are completed in one sitting over the course of a single day. Experienced as a group, Gaddafi 1, Gaddafi 2 and Gaddafi 3 emphasise the editorial process of image selection involved in Sasnal’s painting practice and the wide range of aesthetic decisions involved in translating the digital image from a low-quality print-out into a ‘high-quality’ painting.

Sasnal is also represented in Tate’s collection by two earlier works, both of which were made following a visit to the United States: Untitled (a) 2004 (Tate T11915), which alludes to the mundane setting of a car showroom, and Untitled (a) 2004 (Tate T12130), which shows a sinister group of minute Ku Klux Klan-type figures in an ambiguous, nondescript landscape.

Further reading
Michele Robecchi and Craig Garrett (eds.), Wilhelm Sasnal, London 2011.
Patrizia Dander and Julienne Lorz (eds.), BILD-GEGEN-BILD/Image Counter-Image, Haus de Kunst, Munich 2012, pp.155–7.
Achim Borchardt-Hume (ed.), Wilhelm Sasnal, Whitechapel Gallery, London 2012.

Achim Borchardt-Hume
April 2013

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Display caption

Gaddafi 2 is one of three paintings by Sasnal based on images that emerged in the media following the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Here he homes in on a group of rebel fighters, apparently looking down onto the corpse, which cannot be seen due to the close cropping of the image. One of the figures appears to be filming the event. Due to the increased availability of mobile technology, significant moments in history are now routinely captured by bystanders and posted online. Sasnal further mediates such images by translating them into paintings.

Gallery label, February 2016

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