The Melting Pots: Libyan artists reflect on Tripoli and Benghazi
London - “Art is happening in Libya. Despite all the negativity, we have positive things coming out as well.”
That is the loud-and-clear message from Najlaa el-Ageli, the founder of Noon Arts, who collected a stunning variety of modern Libyan art at London’s Arab British Centre for a fascinating exhibition, The Melting Pots, showcasing Tripoli and Benghazi through the eyes of artists.
Speaking at the private showing of the exhibition, Ageli said: “Every piece is a form of creative contemplation about the history, the present and the future of these sister capitals as well as the acknowledgement that neither can be easily defined.
“Both (cities) have gone through difficult phases and both have proved to be equally defiant, strong, resilient, deceitful, chaotic, glorious, tired, frail and much, much more than this.”
Hadia Gana is among seven artists who took part in the exhibition consisting of modern sculptures, paintings, photography and textile works. She uses everyday objects, including large stones with faded markings, to create sculptures.
She placed small pebbles from a Libyan beach in the centre of the gallery, inviting visitors to walk on them, touch them and pick them up. She explained that the stones, pebbles and sand were reminiscent of the shifting sands of time in reference to the restive situation in Libya.
The North African country has been in turmoil since the uprising of February 2011. The country has two governments, one in the capital Tripoli and an internationally-recognised one in eastern Libya, both battling for the loyalty of the myriad militias.
Artist Nawal Gebreel exudes confidence and pride as she stands next to one of her large creations, a wavy, hanging installation stitched from Libyan fabric. The artist used textiles, shawls and scarves, which she designed and turned into a large sculpture.
“The message is hope,” Gebreel said. “I am from Benghazi where the situation is very difficult. There is going to be a long struggle and the spiral installation reflects the positive and negative phases through which the city is passing.”
She said she was experimenting with more elaborate origami (Japanese art of paper folding) shapes along with classic pleats and swirls in silk and exotic materials.
In another corner of the exhibition, the photographs of Adam Styp- Rekowski and Ibrahim Tawati convey the harsh realities of daily life in Tripoli and Benghazi. Tawati, who is working for the Red Cross in Benghazi as a media and communications officer, has the difficult task of witnessing and visually documenting the casualties of war and the destruction caused by the continuing conflict.
Styp-Rekowski, who was in Libya with the United Nations as a manager for constitutional affairs, is also an accomplished amateur photographer. His enchanting photographs create penetrating insight into daily life in Tripoli. His snaps are comprised of men praying in a mosque, small shops, people at the seaside, traditional houses, small dark alleys and the city’s nooks and crannies.
For his part, Hasan Dhaimish takes a walk down memory lane with his nostalgic street scenes from Benghazi and Tripoli in the form of digital prints and mixed media on paper. A graphic designer by trade, he has been living in the United Kingdom for more than 30 years and is well known for his satirical political cartoons.
A startling explosion of colour was brought to the exhibition by painter Najla Shawkat Fitouri. “I try to open a dialogue with myself through colours as colour can neither be monitored nor controlled politically,” she said,
“To me colour is the creative language that is innocent but can also question the spirit and the political realm.
“The challenge before the February 17th revolution was how to manipulate colour as a way to translate inhibitions and insights. Now, post revolution, the fight is for my freedom and place as a woman in Libyan society.”
Noon Arts was set up by Ageli and others to bring contemporary Libyan art to the world stage in partnership with galleries and museums.
Elaborating on the theme of the exhibition, Ageli said: “Away from the guns and war, we wanted to tell the human story through the artists’ eyes. While this exhibition comes at a time when there is so much strife and uncertainty about Libya’s future with war and chaos taking over, it is meant to show that our Libyan artists are still here. Their work has to be seen and their voices have to be heard.
“I am certain that these works will serve as evidence of the human story that is unfolding, and although the end is unknown, the artwork will be a start and an archive for future generations.”