Since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, Libya has been wracked by civil war, and the unraveling of last year’s events seemed to propel democracy forward. Yet, after the presidential elections came to a halt because of the conflicting opinions of two opposing prime ministers, the country may face imminent conflict once more.
For many years, Libya has been split between two powerful rival administrations from the East and West, making the attempts of unity by the international community profoundly difficult. Last year, tentative steps towards unity fell apart due to the postponement of the presidential elections as two rival prime ministers claimed power.
A year ago, in an attempt to reconstruct a democratic government, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah headed a transitional government, but when asked to step down for the new presidential elections to allow Fathi Bashagha to take his place, Dbeibah refused. As a result, Libyan parties’ were unwilling to cede power, and Bashagha and Dbeibah have portrayed the situation as a struggle “between legitimate and illegitimate”. Because of these events, the country is plagued with the uncertainty of another civil war.
Libyan artist Tewa Barnosa, born in Tripoli and a witness to the Libyan Civil war, explores with paper-based works, installations, moving images, sound and digital mediums the construction and destruction of knowledge that is used to isolate and dehumanize people and their homelands. Most of her practice is dedicated to highlighting themes of conflict of identity, roots, language and socio-political issues related to free-artistic expression in post-war situations, migration and diversity, conducting her practice as a beacon for Libyan culture and society.
"I said to myself: if I want to be an artist, I need a basis." the artist recalls. "And if nobody offers me that, then I’ll create one myself."
With this subject in mind, at only nineteen, Barnosa founded a foundation with the purpose to revive the art scene in Libya called WaraQ Art Foundation. Unfortunately, art in Libya is still a taboo subject and remains highly controversial. After opening, the space was surrounded multiple times and shut down by a militia attack. Yet, the artist was not discouraged by these actions. Instead, Barnosa found alternative methods of engaging the public, including initiatives held in the streets that focused on the viewer’s experience as well as exhibitions and talks about the ongoing conflict, human rights violations and immigration.
“A war that is not documented artistically or culturally will be denied or forgotten,” the artist states."
“I thought a lot about whether I should stop so that no one would be hurt. But we executed, and took our activities outside, into the public sphere. Public places belong to everyone. It was a statement. And it was a life-changing experience.”
In one of her most poignant works called Silent Protests, the artist plays with notions of silence perceived during the war and its war atrocities through material communication. The installation consists of fifty bricks, layered in agglomerations on the wall, which metaphorically represent protestors' statements, narrating the Libyan civil war as a timeline of collective voices. Each brick has its own meaning. Some describe the horrific living conditions of Libya during the war, some the social, political and cultural events in Libya, and others, written in dark humour, reflect upon a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel — an installation that both materially and conceptually speaks of the atmospheres of Libyan individuals and their stories.
Due to Barnosa’s fervent commitment to bringing attention to the conflict happening in Libya and her unorthodox pictorial methods, her practice sparked interest outside her homeland early on, holding exhibitions at the P21 Gallery, the AWAN Festival in London, the Casa Arabé in Madrid and the Galleria Delle Prigioni in Treviso, Italy. In addition, she also curated multiple exhibitions around the world.
After the militia’s attacks, the artist went to Berlin on an MRI one year fellowship, where she is now developing a body of work focused on the connective points and culture of North Africa and Europe. Although Barnosa has developed a new perspective and immersed herself in the international art scene, her desire is to one day be part of a free and prosperous cultural scene in Libya. As such, Barnosa's practice embodies the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal addressing Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
Even though the artist cannot go back to Libya because of her many political art endeavors, her practice still explores the Libyan art scene and atmospheres, letting Libyan artistic culture and individuality flourish abroad.
See more of Barnosa's practice here.