During this turbulent time in Libya, ‘The Melting Pots’ group exhibition, which runs from July 14-23 at the Arab British Centre in London, brings a refreshingly artistic perspective to the country’s two main cities, Tripoli and Benghazi. The show features seven artists, six Libyan and one non-Libyan, working across different mediums. The exhibit includes pieces that reflect on these two urban hubs, while also drawing upon the rich, centuries’ long history behind both places.
Curated by Noon Arts,* this rare show is a contemplative space. The images and artworks on the walls, together with the incredible installation on the floor, exist in conversation with one another. They explore how, where, when, and why Tripoli and Benghazi are experiencing what they are experiencing and what can be done to improve their circumstances.
Najla Shawket Fitouri’s Paintings
As a part of the exhibition, artist Najla Shawket Fitouri offers three powerful paintings with strikingly colourful depictions of Tripoli and Benghazi in female form. Hanging on one wall is the large-scale ‘Bride of the Med’ painting that evokes a sense of madness, as though Tripoli is in a state of psychosis. The image is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, lost and floating down a watery passage way.
Another one of Fitouri’s painting depicts Benghazi lying in a coffin, ready for burial – Libya’s ultimate martyr who has suffered more than anyone or anything else.
Describing her paintings via email, Fitouri told Muftah:
I paint clinging on to my identity as a Libyan woman that at times feels as if it is very rapidly disappearing. The cities to me also are the tapestries of our origins and the layers of the diversity of citizens and me continuing to paint them is to archive the history. To paint now post-revolution is also a necessity especially when war seems to be forcing itself into our lives. I believe that only through painting that I can break away the tools of war and its many shocks as it is my only means of hope.
Hasan Dhaimish’s Digitally Manipulated Images
Hasan Dhaimish created seven digitally manipulated images for the show, entitled ‘Sketches of Libya,’ which depict historical scenes from Tripoli and Benghazi. Based on old black and white postcards showing Libyan cities before and after World War II, the images explore what Libya was like during the Italian occupation and the “Golden Era” of the 1950s and 60s.
Describing his images via email, Dhaimish told Muftah:
I wanted to bring these old and faded black and white images back to life and offer them to a contemporary audience. I especially want the new generation to appreciate their culture and the past. I used digital tools through a Wacom tablet and I was able to copy the pictures onto Adobe Photoshop and Flash.
My work is partly educational and has a historical element. Libya at this time is going through turmoil but I feel things will improve eventually and order will be restored. I hope by showing my work, it will help people to keep in touch with their heritage and also we can hope one day soon we will be able to rebuild Libya and learn to coexist just as past generations did.
Adam Styp-Rekowski’s Photography and Prose
The only non-Libyan participating in the show, Polish artist Adam Styp-Rekowski brings an insightful foreign gaze to the project with photographic images of the day-to-day lives of locals, as well as an accompanying written text, titled ‘Walks in Tripoli.’ Styp-Rekowski first visited Tripoli in early 2012 on a short work mission with the United Nations and later returned and stayed in Libya for some months before being evacuated in July 2014.
Describing his photographs via email, Styp-Rekowski told Muftah:
After days full of long meetings, I would find himself sneaking out of the hotel every night to wander the streets of the old Medina. Throughout my time in Tripoli, I never stopped walking in the city, discovering it like one who discovers a world where he lives but it is somehow on a parallel fascinating different dimension. The streets of Tripoli were my escape from the reality of work, politics and projects.
Tripoli and Benghazi are the people, families, happiness, problems and the beauty that is in any place in the world. This exhibition talks about the Libya that is often not seen nor heard through the noise of the gunshots and the explosions, which is what most people associate Libya with. Visitors will be able to see a different side that is not the bizarre threatening failed state but a land of diverse history, culture and beauty shown through its two main cities.
Hadia Gana’s ‘Tripoli Pebbles’
On the floor of the exhibit is Hadia Gana’s installation work ‘Tripoli Pebbles.’ The project holds deep personal meaning for the artist who dedicated nine years to perfecting the piece. The installation is composed of twelve stones in various shapes and weights with different layers of material pasted on, including text, sketches, and red bloodstains. When shaken, the pebbles make a tinkling sound.
The installation tells the story of the artist’s late father, Ali Gana, who for many years worked to preserve the old Tripoli Medina, but who was thwarted in his efforts by a corrupt Libyan institution that failed in its obligations to protect the UNESCO-listed heritage site.
In an interview with Muftah, Gana described the inspiration behind her work:
The first pebbles installation in 2006 was a turning point for me and luckily my father had a chance to see it. I have used his writings and sketches in the work as he had witnessed the corruption just like the stones did. Originally they were to poke his boss whom I couldn’t’ reach in other ways; but, almost ten years later after a revolution and the tough lingering hangover, the inlayed subject of this work – institutional corruption – is still as fresh today as was it back then.
In fact, it has had a boost with the general anarchy reigning in Libya and her cities. Added to this is the aggressive behaviour we see that is attacking peaceful efforts and resulting in the dried blood. These pebbles and sea shore stones resulting from dumping destruction remains have been themselves patient observers, lying down and waiting to be seen, comprehended or even possibly apprehended for no cause. They are waiting to be held and understood.
Nawal Gebreel’s Spiral Fabric Sculptures
Nawal Gebreel is a textile designer who has used 3D, pleating, and hand manipulation techniques to create two spiral fabric sculptures for the exhibit from a special woven fabric brought from Libya. Made from silver thread and rayon, the fabric is used in weddings and bridal celebrations and has a discernable Kufic (the oldest calligraphic from of Arabic) script running through it.
In an interview with Muftah, Gebreel explaining the meaning inscribed in her installation:
There is a bit of sadness about the Benghazi piece because of the black color covering the alternate side. I wanted to do a spiral movement to represent how the city itself is in a spiral. But there is a little bit of hope in the silvery thread and one day I pray Benghazi can go up and rise again. Whereas the Tripoli piece is slightly different with an all turquoise alternate side to indicate clearer skies and more optimism.
Muftah Abudajaja’s Digital Calligraphic Images
Muftah Abudajaja’s is an architect, urban planner, and creative director at the Libya Design Cultural Centre. For this exhibition, he presents several pieces using digital manipulation techniques that use a form of Arabic calligraphy. One of the pieces represents Tripoli and the other symbolizes Benghazi.
In white script over a black background, Abudajaja spells out the names of each city. Different letters are used to create poetic shapes that present the city almost as a flower; an optical illusion makes the images seem as if they are moving.
In another piece, Abudajaja experiments with urban reconstruction plans for Benghazi. Against the backdrop of war and violence currently gripping the city, Abudajaja’s proposals are both fantastic and humorous.
Ibrahim Tawati’s Photography
Born in 1993 in Benghazi, Ibrahim Tawati is a talented young photographer whose powerful images capture the tragic destruction of his home town. Working for the Red Cross in Benghazi as a Media and Communications Officer, Tawati’s job has been to personally witness, visually document, and archive the casualties of war and destruction caused by the continuing conflict.
A Strong Message of Hope
Walking into the exhibition, one is confronted first by Najla Shawket Fitouri’s large-scale paintings depicting Libya’s twin cities as maidens gripped by madness. As one proceeds through the show, the Hadia Gana’s installation piece draws one’s attention, inviting the visitor to hold a smooth stone close to her ear and listen as it whispers an unfortunate tale.
Although these pieces reflect a definite sense of sadness, loss, and grief, as a result of on-going violence and political instability, the exhibit ultimately leaves one with a message of hope, and clear call from all the artists for peace, unity, and reconciliation in Libya.
*The author is Head of Press and Communications at Noon Arts, an organization that strives to bring the very best of Libyan art to the world stage. Its ongoing mission is to spot, encourage, and nurture both new and established Libyan artists and to celebrate their work. From paintings to photography, film, sculpture and installation art, Noon Arts draws from a deep pool of local talent whose work has rarely been shown or properly credited until now. Through exhibitions planned in partnership with contemporary galleries and museums, Noon Arts supports talented Libyan artists by marketing their work and offering them an international platform to further their careers. For more visit www.noon-arts.co.uk.