Libyan artists take flight

June 2008 -

"I can't show nude bodies here", says artist Mohamed Abumeis, 38, in the only commercial gallery in Tripoli. "The public will not appreciate it. So I made the body more abstract." It is Abumeis’ first exposition in Libya since his return from Manchester. Like many other Libyan artists, he received a grant from his government to study abroad. The art academies in Italy and England are popular destinations. But that does not mean that all artists in Libya are interested in the international art sector.


Cermics by Hadia Gana

"Why would I go to see what is being made elsewhere", says artist Meriam Abani, 35, with surprise. "The inspiration for my work comes from within." For decades the desert state was isolated, cut off from the world outside. Looking outside was not stimulated. When the embargo was lifted in 2003, it marked the beginning of economic reforms. The art world is starting to benefit from these as well. Today some businesses organise temporary expositions with work by young Libyan artists. Wealthy businessmen commission work from local artists.

"I just designed a bathroom for a client", explains Hadia Gana, 35. The ceramics specialist is a valued teacher at the art faculty in Zawia and at the School for Islamic Arts and Crafts in Tripoli. She is a member of various advisory boards and is preparing her PhD research at Cardiff University. A few years ago, she had a successful exposition in the old French consulate in the medina. The exposition boasted ceramic stones printed with old photographs and texts. "After three days, the visitors started to touch the stones and lift them. That interaction was inspiring." Recent changes in Libya's art world have been small, but they have been visible, which is what makes them so encouraging.