Today I attended the opening of the exhibition “Retracing A Disappearing Landscape’, held at the P21 Gallery in London, which runs from 29 March-15 May, 2018 and explores “people’s direct experience of and fascination with memory and personal history as well as the collective narratives that arise in connection with modern day Libya.”
Artists featured included Elham Ferjani, Mohammed Ben Khalifa, Jihan Kikhia, Reem Gibriel and Laila Sharif, among many others. The exhibition included works more directly related to preserving and reflecting on cultural memory, including oral narratives and works drawing on and responding to family photo albums, as well as more abstract paintings and contemporary pieces reacting to the post-2011 context, such as the controversy over the Ghazala statue in Tripoli.
It is not often that I have the chance to attend any art-related event focused on Libya. I’m not used to that sense of intense personal connection — it was strange, for example, to feel moved by the immediately familiar embroidered pillow cases in Reem Gibriel’s work, In Sense of Remembrance, which “highlights the sense of smell as part of many shared memories that linger in the consciousness.”
Gibriel describes the “self-deception” of nostalgia, but also the way in which it “allows us to draw strength from memory,” and speaks of the power of “long[ing] for something that no longer exists but that defines our sense of belonging.” This speaks directly to a recurrent theme that runs through the exhibition, that of holding on to what has disappeared, making sense of what remains, as with Jihan Kikhia’s Tribute Portrait of her late father Mansour Kikhia, and the immediately familiar snippets of song and television interspersed with more personal narratives in Malak Elghwel’s video collage Mendar.
There’s much to see and absorb in this exhibition, though it is in quite a small space, that I think I will have to come back at least once more.