“It’s Much More Than A Pause”: The State of the Arts in Libya Today

'Textiles of a City' an oil painting by Najla Shawket Fitouri (Image courtesy of Noon Arts).  Source

‘Textiles of a City’ an oil painting by Najla Shawket Fitouri (Image courtesy of Noon Arts). Source

Today in The National, Nick Leech writes about the Fergianis, the Libyan family whose name has become synonymous with books. He talks to Ghassan Fergiani, the managing director of Darf Publishers, about the history of the Fergiani bookstores, and how the current situation is impacting their new publishing ventures.

As with Rim Taher’s article from a few weeks ago about the state of Libya’s art scene, the Fergiani brothers talk about the difficulties facing them, given the turmoil the country has been going through the last couple of years:

“If I want to get books from outside Libya it’s very difficult to get them to Tripoli now because there are no airlines,” he says. “The currency is also a problem. The cost of the dollar is getting higher and higher and that makes books more expensive, but it’s very difficult to explain this to my customers. They don’t understand why a book that cost $10 last month should cost $20 now.”

In her article on the Libyan artscene Rim Taher interviews artist Marii Tillissi, Emad Bash-Agha of Dar Al-Founoun, and Khalifa Al-Mahdawi, a founder of Art House, who warns that the slowdown in the creative output since the revolution is not merely a “pause”:

“Everything has been slowed down, if not completely halted, for more than a year.” Khalifa Al-Mahdawi, a founder of Art House, was more blunt. “It’s much more than just a pause,” he said.

The slowdown is understandable, as people’s attention shift to the day-to-day struggle to survive, but it also has to do with a sense of apathy and disillusionment with the hopes of the revolution. As Usama Fergiani explains:

“For one or two years after the revolution there was a lot of demand for books that explained what had happened…And when I started publishing these books I would print 5,000 copies, but now I print 1,000. People aren’t interested anymore because of what has happened. They no longer care.”

For both the artists and the Fergiani brothers however, all hope is not lost. Taher ends her article with a mention of Najlaa Elageli’s project, Noon Arts, which “has tapped 140 artists from Libya for an online catalogue of works from around the world.”And, despite the many challenges, Fergiani reiterates the importance of the arts to help people “understand”:

“There is something important about increasing understanding through fiction, about not lecturing people. Fiction can be a very great medium for helping people to understand about ‘the other’.”

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