Artists of different societies have different methods of expressing their emotions and values, which are strongly dictated by their society and heritage; in other words: the form of art is expressed by the language and experience that people learn through history. Art can be expressed simply in words, such as poetry, or in the form of a painting or a sculpture. Simply speaking, art and design are the common language of all societies and is understood by all despite the obvious differences in spoken language, time or geographical location.
Artistic views of the beauty of Libyan life
In this article I will present some paintings of some Libyan artists. Although I have not met the artists, Fawzi Swaiey and Sallah Shagroon, in person; I will try to interpret their work to my best ability. From their paintings, one can clearly see that the two artists belong to the same traditional school.
Image 1: painting of Wodou by Sallah Shagroon
In Libya, most elderly people revolve around the mosque in their everyday life. In the first painting, image 1 by Sallah Shagroon, of a man performing wodou: translated in English as ablution; a prerequisite before any Islamic prayer. In all mosques there is a place that is designed and built for this purpose. This painting emphasizes the attention and care given by the person to perform ablution in the best of ways. It shows clearly the humble attitude of the man in the painting; his respect and high hopes for an acceptable act of worship are evident.
Image 2: painting of old books by S Shagroon
In Image 2 we see a collection of old books. In old times, there were no printing services in Libya and people imported books from other Arab countries. Most of these books deal with religious teachings, this in turn, added to their value. Libyans in general are not good readers but, to many of the scholars, books represent a great treasure.
Once I met an old man from the south of Libya in an art exhibition in Dublin, he was visiting his son who lived in Ireland. He told me that he would buy any book he could afford. When I asked him why he replied: in my home town we used to have only one book in religion, the owner of which became like a scholar, we always had to go back to him for an answer as to what should be done for any difficult situation. He bought several books.
When I was studying in the United State; one of my Professors drew my attention for the first time to the fact that we should not believe all written material. It is always interesting to read what others think or tell, however, one should always use his/her own reasoning to make sense of what is written before them. Returning to references for verification is always a valuable means to ascertain the credibility of what we read and, that in itself broadens our horizons and teaches us far more than we were looking for. There is no limit to knowledge.
Nowadays printing services in Libya are very good but they suffer from the scarcity of both authors and readers. During the Second World War and the following Italian occupation of Libya, most Libyans did not have good education; this in turn, made most parents illiterate and lead to the lack of introduction of young Libyans to reading books early enough in their lives. Most Libyan authors are more recognised outside Libya and their work is translated into foreign languages.
Islam, Christianity and Judaism are the “Holy Book Religions”. Many Muslims attribute a special value for a written material because of the central value of books in Islam.
The most valuable book in Arabic for Muslims is the Noble Quran. The first word revealed to Prophet Mohammad pbuh was” read”. These two fundamental facts should make us the best of readers. It was a rule of thumb for older people that you master what you memorise and not just what you read.
If you look carefully at the painting above, the artist displayed the written page as brighter than the remainder of the whole painting, in order to enhance the old Arabic saying: “knowledge is light”. It is a metaphor as to say that with knowledge one can see his/her path.
Image3: painting of a lamp by Fawzi Swaiey
Image 3 displays an old spirit lamp. It emphasizes an object that was the companion of all scholars, students, farmers and security people. Before the widespread access to electricity, the only source of light in old times was this type of lamp. All elderly Libyans who are now professors and scholars remember the long hours spent when it was their only companion along with their books.
The condition of the cracked wall that the lamp is hung on reflects the poverty in those times.
Nonetheless, this was never an impediment to attain knowledge. The lamp was just hung on a nail in these very cracks. This painting also highlights the importance of light in our lives. In the Noble Quran Allah swt describe himself as the light of all heavens and earth. This means that Allah Almighty is the supreme source of all knowledge, supreme power, and ultimate guidance for the whole universe.
Image 4: painting of a fighter belt by F Swaiey
In image 4 the artist painted a fighter belt hung to the wall next to a portrait of a father and his son. In peace, in old days, the fighter belt was kept hanging on the wall as a proud reminder to the younger generation of the past days of the glorious fighting for freedom and also as a weapon ready for use if needed again by the next generation. It is also as to say to the invader that, like father like son, we are always ready, and we will all defend land again as we always did, generation after generation. This belt is handmade locally as weapons were not imported at those times.
Libyans in the seventeenth and eighteenth century use to design and produce their own ships and weapons. On 31st of October1803 Libyan fighters were able to capture a great American naval ship called Philadelphia, to mention one battle. Philadelphia Ship wreckage is still present on Libyan shores. In the eighteenth century many European countries used to pay duties for Libya to pass in the Mediterranean Sea.
Image 5: painting of a pair of sandals by F Swaiey
Image 5 is the painting of a pair of homemade sandals. This is a mark of respect for national creativity, where local materials are used to meet local needs.
Before the discovery of oil, Libyans used to manufacture locally many of the products they needed. Oil, although considered by many as a Godly gift; it caused a disastrous decline in industrious creativity in petrol producing countries. With the wealth brought by petrol in Libya, we imported most of our needs at reasonable prices, this lead to the closure of many local businesses. My grandfather was a shoe maker and this painting is close to my heart as it brings home part of my family history.
Image 6 is a painting of a Libyan bride. It represents the dream of most young Libyan girls. The details of the beautiful Libyan traditional wedding dress together with some samples of the gold fittings are painted in clear detail. The colours of the outfit match the natural beauty of the bride. All parts of the outfit are homemade and handmade, including the design of the jewellery. Only raw material is imported. Libyan weddings are, traditionally, quite expensive. The groom tries his best to bring to the bride as much jewellery as he could. As an initial show of appreciation to the bride, the more is the weight of the gold and the higher the carat, the more is the appreciation and vice versa, unless both are from very poor background. In this case, this issue is overlooked.
Image 6: painting of a groom by S Shagroon
Unlike western traditions, the wedding dress is usually worn by the young bride for every future wedding. This way all young brides meet wearing their wedding dress. It is a historical way of keeping good memories alive. The only difference from the actual bride is that the bride to be does not wear the belt on her wedding day while the rest do. It is quite fascinating to watch a Libyan wedding; it is very rich and very jolly.
This painting indicates how much Libyans would love and appreciate their spouses, in the amount of money and effort they spend to make them happy for life.
Prophet Mohammad pbuh said” O’ Muslims the best amongst you is the best for his or her spouse and I am the best of you to my spouse “. When the Prophet was asked “who is the most beloved to you?” He replied” Aisha”, his wife. The speaker said I mean amongst men the prophet replied” her father”.
Finally it is my pleasure to thank all Libyan artists who give attention and care to our national values and heritage.