Omar bin Laden exhibits in Normandy

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Le Tilliol (France) (AFP) – Mountains and red skies, peaceful camps in the desert or ships sailing at night under the moon: Omar bin Laden was exhibited at Le Teilleul, in the English Channel, and his paintings began to be sold all over the world.

The 41-year-old son of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was shot dead by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011, began drawing while in custody.

“We were at home, we didn’t do much. My wife was painting and I thought I should try,” said in English this reserved man, tall, with curly brown hair falling to his shoulders and his face eaten with a pinch of salt and a pepper beard.

“I learned from watching men on YouTube (…) and fell in love” with this art, he continues, in a low voice that characterizes him. Among many other professions, drawing has become the “most interesting”. When you can translate what you want, “you feel so happy,” he says.

Most of the paintings on display, the largest of which are no more than 60 by 80 centimeters, show memories of bin Laden’s childhood and adolescence. He spent his early years in his homeland, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi painter Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, during an exhibition of his work at Le Teilleul, in the Manche department, on July 1, 2022 Jean-Francois Monnier AFP

“Then, since the age of 10, we lived with my father in Sudan, before we left (with him) for Afghanistan” four years later, he says.

Two countries marked him deeply. Mountain blood is Afghanistan “a wonderful country”. “Al-Ahmar suffers, war, bombings, death: that’s what it means (…) It was the most difficult period of my life.” He analyzes the painting, “Become a Part of Yourself,” noting in passing that “something of me lives in Afghanistan.”

After five years in this country, in which he still retains dazzling memories, he left his father at the age of nineteen. Then he begins a wandering life in many Arab countries, including the Arabian Peninsula, until his arrival in France and his installation in Normandy in 2016.

Become an “artist in France”

Last year, the first exhibition was halted due to confinement. This time, about thirty paintings, often very colorful, were presented at a huge roadside flea market, at the invitation of the director of the place with whom the painter sympathized.

“Since the first papers about his work, we sell a lot, all over the world. The exhibition has not yet opened but some paintings have already been booked (…) Bin Laden’s name sells,” admitted merchant Pascal Martin.

Saudi painter Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, during an exhibition of his work at Le Teilleul, in the Manche department, on July 1, 2022
Saudi painter Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, during an exhibition of his work at Le Teilleul, in the Manche department, on July 1, 2022 Jean-Francois Mounir, Agence France-Presse / The Archives

Prices range from 750/800€ for the youngest to 2000/2500€ for the oldest. For students who wanted to pay for one of these paintings, “we had amazing sales,” Mr. Martin asserts.

Those who sign their works at OBL feel “good” when they draw. “I feel happier if I succeed,” he says with one of his rare smiles. “Otherwise, I’ll start over and over again.”

Far from the cities he says he hates, the lover of nature, wide open spaces, and freedom appreciates his new life. “Sometimes people judge you for your father,” he says, referring primarily to the Arab countries he stayed in after leaving Afghanistan. “But here, I feel very free. I feel free from responsibility for my parents’ actions (…) Nobody judges me, they respect me and leave me in peace.”

And he rejoices: “In France, I became an artist!”

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