Libyans discover video art after four-decade cultural vacuum

AFP, Monday 12 Nov 2012

A new video art exhibition gives Libyans a taste of art free from regime control

First Glance
Libya's first video art exhibit proved a hit in Tripoli, drawing scores of spectators in a country emerging from 42 culturally barren years under the regime of slain dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
People from all over the capital flocked to the seaside Old City this month following the itinerary charted by "First Glance," an outdoor exhibition organised by The Arete Foundation for Arts and Culture, a Libyan initiative.
"Art, music and spectacles were not considered politically correct during the Gaddafi regime," recalled Abdessalem Fraj, in his 40s, who had never experienced anything other than officially sanctioned art until the strongman's death in October 2011.
Indeed, such cultural initiatives were a no-go during the previous regime. Gaddafi's personality cult and the dogma of the "Green Book" defined the narrow boundaries of acceptable artistic expression, crushing any creative initiative.
Poetry and song festivals that praised the mercurial and self-styled "Brother Leader" or the bloodless 1969 coup in which he ousted King Idris I were part of the staple diet.
Salaheddin al-Majerbi, another visitor, reflected that "despite the talent that abounds in Libya, artists could not express themselves or flourish during the 42 years of Gaddafi rule."
"Any out-of-the-box expression or creative initiative was punishable by imprisonment or even death," said Majerbi.
The exhibit's centre piece, "Dance of Chaos" by New Zealand's Mark Pulsford, mirrors human motion and uses computer software to draw with light. A group of short clips titled "Boats" mimics floating through fluctuating horizons.
Reem Gibriel, the foundation's executive director, said the two-day exhibit sought to give people "the chance to enjoy an artistic medium that needs no expertise to grasp its meaning and enjoy its beauty."
"I wanted spectators to make the most of the exotic atmosphere offered by the Medina," she added.
Nine screens were installed at five historic points of the walled Old City, or Medina, including the ancient Roman arch of Marcus Aurelius, the Santa Maria church and the Darghut baths.
Guided by red arrows, intrigued visitors strolled from one site to the next, relishing the creations of artists from 14 countries, including Egypt, England and France.
"The purpose of this artistic collaboration is to highlight the art of video as a modern medium that can be used to document a wide range of events and serve as a living memory for the people," exhibit organiser Khaled Mattawa told AFP.
"This medium helped convey to the world the horrors of the repression carried out by the former regime and the popular uprising against dictatorship," he said in reference to the 2011 conflict that ousted Gaddafi.
Babacar Mohammed, a student who lives in the the Medina, welcomed the change in mood, saying the "exhibit gives residents a chance to come together and resume civil life after the war."
His friend, photographer Ahmed Tarhuni, said "we must use this newly found freedom to advance the country's cultural scene."
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