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Libya to London
by Muhammad Yusuf January 19, 2017
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The Arab British Centre (ABC), London, is hosting ‘Jewelled Tales of Libya’, a Noon Arts exhibition curated by Najlaa El-Ageli and Hala Ghellali, exploring the diversity and historical identity of Libya through its tradition of fine jewellery (Jan. 19 – 27). It aims to tell the stories behind the adornments and symbols that feature heavily throughout the country.

Alongside a display of 45 pieces of authentic Libyan silver jewellery from the 1920s to 1960s (comprising chokers, belts, headpieces, bangles and silver slippers amongst other pieces), the exhibition shows 13 original vintage photographs, that belong to the curators’ private collections.

Libyan women traditionally wear large pieces of gold or silver jewellery. The neckwear usually goes down to the knees and the bracelets are 4-6 inches wide. The large silver brooches used to attach the cloth are now replaced with gold and are usually decorated with a “Khamaisah”, a hand shaped symbol, or other charms that are believed to keep the evil eye off.

It is traditional for the groom to give the wedding outfit with the gold to his bride and for the bride to wear it the day after. Women’s traditional outfit is very expensive, but the prices vary depending on the quality and weight of gold or silver.

Dating back to the early decades of the 20th century, the images of Libyan women on show were taken by Italian cameramen, (such as Aula, Nascia, Rimoldi and others), who established studios in Libya during the European colonisation and contributed to the Orientalist strand of photography.

The history of Libya as an Italian colony began in the 1910s and lasted until 1947, when Italy officially lost all the colonies of the former Italian Empire.

The Libyan struggle for independence produced Omar Al-Mukhtar, the leader of native resistance against the Italian colonisation of Libya. Beginning 1911, he organised and for nearly twenty years, led the opposition against the colonial Italians. After many attempts, the Italian armed forces managed to capture him and hanged him in 1931. Al-Mukhtar is considered the National Hero of Libya and is a symbol of resistance in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

In contrast to its old collection, the exhibition also features more recent photographs taken by the talented Libyan photographer Sasi Harib, whose work captures the essence of Libya’s Southern women, adorned in their jewellery.

El-Ageli is the co-founder of Noon Arts and Ghellali is a Libyan born academic translator based in California and keen collector of photographs from colonial and post-colonial Libya. Commenting on the significance of this collection El-Ageli said that “the layers of cultural influences that have formed Libya’s identity – from the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations to the African, Amazigh, Bedouin, Moorish, Jewish, Ottoman and Arab peoples – are innocently revealed in the jewellery on display. Together they present the country’s difficult journey over the millennia, without making any judgment and without hiding any truths”. The exhibition is sponsored by Darf Publishers.

ABC is an award-winning cultural organisation which works to further understanding of the Arab world in the United Kingdom. It organises and promotes arts and cultural events relating to the Arab world from its central London premises and runs a number of initiatives in partnership with leading UK and international institutions.

Since it was founded in 1977, it has housed and subsidised other like-minded organisations involved in Arab-British relations. ABC currently supports Banipal, the Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration (CTDC); the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU); Friends of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music; Ibraaz; Shubbak Festival and Zaytoun.

Founded in 2012, Noon Arts strives to bring Libyan art to the world stage. Its mission is to spot, encourage and nurture both new and established Libyan artists and to celebrate their work in its myriad forms.

From painting to photography, film, sculpture and installation art, it primarily focuses on emerging artists. It hosts exhibitions, mainly in partnership with contemporary galleries and museums, events and initiates other projects.

Darf Publishers was established in 1980 and is currently based in London. It focuses on books about Libya, Middle East and the Arab World in English, but recent projects aim to translate world literature for English audiences.

Much of its back catalogue is facsimile editions of rare 18th and 19th century books, mostly in the fields of history, travel, literature, languages, poetry, culture and sport.

Darf is the English imprint of Dar Fergiani, which has been a major Arabic publishing house since it was first established in 1952. Since 1980, Darf has published more than 200 titles of facsimile books that were out of print, including titles in Italian.

It recently began venturing on new projects with the emergence of literature written by Middle Eastern and North African writers to translate and publish fiction and literary works from new talents and well established Arab writers, introducing them to a wider audience and discovering new works that didn’t see the light for many generations.

The Darf publishing house is named for its association with Dar Fergiani. Dar Fergiani operated in Libya in the 1950s, but could not continue to print as Moammar Ghaddafi consolidated his rule. Fergiani emigrated, although there are still several Fergiani bookshops in Libya.

Born in Tripoli, Libya 1957, Ghellali grew up at the peak of historical shifts in Libya to a mother of Turkish ancestry and a Libyan father. She speaks five languages fluently and works as an academic translator in California.

She studied French Literature and Modern Languages and taught French Literature at the University of Tripoli. She left Libya in 1986 and lived in Cairo, Rome, Damascus and most recently, the USA.

She is passionate about history, art and culture, and likes to research her own history – the history, stories and images of her hometown. Photography is of particular interest and she turned into an avid collector of photographs from colonial and postcolonial Libya.

El-Ageli was born in the United States and raised between Italy, Libya and the United Kingdom. She is a qualified architect with over 15 years of professional experience involving various projects in London, Japan and Spain.

She founded Noon Arts in 2012, a small private organisation to curate contemporary Libyan art and to bring the works of both emerging and established Libyan artists to the world stage. So far, she has curated and organised nine international exhibitions in London, Malta, Tripoli (Libya) and California.

In 2015, Noon Arts was commissioned by the Benetton Foundation to curate the Libyan Art catalogue for its global ‘Imago Mundi’ project. In the same year, it partnered with Shubbak Festival to bring Libyan graffiti artist Aimen Ajhani and with ‘Nour Festival of Arts’ to bring ‘Birthmark Theory’, a solo exhibition by Canadian-Libyan artist Arwa Abouon at the London Print Studio.

Last year, she partnered the London-based Arts Canteen to curate two exhibitions for the ‘Arab Women Artists Now’ (AWAN) Festival at Rich Mix London, bringing the works of six emerging female artists from the MENA region.

She is a member of the London Print studio Trustee Board since 2015 and was a member of the Jury of The Arab Fund of Art and Culture for the Visual Arts grants 2016.
 

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