The 41-year-old son of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, shot dead in Pakistan in 2011 by US special forces, took up painting during confinement.
“We were at home, not doing much. My wife was painting and I told myself that I should try”, says in English this reserved man, tall, with curly brown hair falling on his shoulders and with a face eaten by a little salt and pepper beard.
“I learned by watching guys on youtube (…) and I fell in love” with this art, he continues, with the low voice that characterizes him. Among many other occupations, painting has become “the most interesting”. When you manage to translate what you want, “you feel very happy”, he says.
Most of the paintings on display, the largest of which do not exceed 60×80 centimeters, appear as reminiscences of Omar bin Laden’s childhood and adolescence. His early years were spent in his native country, Saudi Arabia.
“Then, from the age of ten, we lived with my father in Sudan, before leaving (with him) for Afghanistan” four years later, he says.
Two countries that have marked him deeply. The blood red of the mountains is Afghanistan, “a magnificent country”. “Red is suffering, war, bombings, death: that’s what it means (…) It was the most difficult period of my life”. A painting, “it becomes a part of yourself”, he analyzes, noting in passing that “something of me lives in Afghanistan”.
After five years in this country, of which he nevertheless keeps dazzling memories, he left his father at the age of 19. Then began a life of itinerancy in several Arab countries, including Arabia, until his arrival in France and settling in Normandy in 2016.
– Became “artist in France” –
Last year, a first exhibition was interrupted by confinement. This time, about thirty paintings, often very colorful, are presented in a huge flea market on the side of the road, at the invitation of the manager of the place with whom the painter sympathized.
“Since the first papers on his work, we sell a lot, all over the world. The exhibition has not yet been inaugurated but some paintings are already reserved (…) The name of Bin Laden sells”, recognizes the merchant, Pascal Martin.
Prices range from 750/800 euros for the smallest to 2,000/2,500 for the older ones. To students who wanted to afford one of these paintings, “we made staggered sales”, underlines Mr. Martin.
Whoever signs his works OBL feels “appeased” when he paints. “I feel happier if I succeed. Otherwise, I start over and over again,” he says, with one of his rare smiles.
Far from the cities he says he hates, this lover of nature, wide open spaces and freedom appreciates his new life. “Sometimes people judge you on your father,” he says, referring mainly to the Arab countries where he stayed after leaving Afghanistan. “But here, I feel very free. I feel freed from the responsibility for my father’s actions (…) No one judges me, they respect me and they leave me in peace”.
And, he rejoices, “in France, I became an artist!”