Intro

Every artistic project, regardless of how detached it might seem from the reality it stems from, is in some way a response to that reality.

Renaissance literary critics in England tell us that the overly romantic love poems written by Shakespeare and other English poets of the time were not limited to personal and emotional experiences. They assert that these poems had social and political motivations that coincided with the feelings of love and passion. Similarly, there is a consensus regarding modern Arabic poetry that the romantic movement represented by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi and Ali Mahmoud Taha was born out of the struggle against colonialism and the forces hindering the nation's progress. The yearning for the beloved in those poems was intertwined with the longing for liberation, to break the chains of colonialism and dispel the backwardness that shackled society in the darkness of its night. Since love is the highest state of human transcendence, poets throughout time and place have found it a fitting symbol for noble values and the transcendence they seek to achieve in all aspects of their lives.

As for this book, we hope that as you browse through it, you will recognize "Album Libya" as a message of love for our country, our people, and our fellow Libyans. This collective message is undeniably a response to the contemporary political and social situation in Libya. Our current state—evident to all—is one of fragmentation, chaos, and missed opportunities, resulting in wars that have claimed the lives of many innocent people who longed for a better future. Perhaps the greatest suffering we Libyans have faced in recent times is losing ourselves or the identity we once knew and aspired to be. This book, dear reader, is a collective love poem sparked by the flames of sorrow and longing.

But just as the arts enable individuals or groups of people to express their feelings and thoughts in a particular historical period, they also give them the opportunity to reconsider their surrounding circumstances and redirect their emotional and cognitive compass. Yes, the situation in our country is dire, but is this all we have to say about it? Is this the extent of our knowledge about it? What about our memories, hopes, and everything this nation and its people have bestowed upon us? What about its nature, history, deserts, mountains, and skies? Do we confine the country solely to the arena where leaders, politicians, their allies, and external funders vie for power? What about the rest of the Libyans? How do they live and what do they think? What are the factors that keep them attached to their country, whether they remain in it or are forced to leave? Isn't there something else we can say about our country?

In the state of fragmentation and chronic complaint that we are in, these questions posed a real challenge to us, prompting us to consider what role we can play as citizens and artists to reassess or to discover our experiences and common humanity in Libya. Naturally, we felt that the answer must be an artistic endeavor that transcends the current moment, delving deeply into the past and looking towards the future with some degree of neutrality, if not hope. But how? After multiple discussions and researching similar initiatives, we concluded that the answer must be a multimedia initiative, documenting Libyan experience from different perspectives, in a simple, personal, and direct manner. What if, we asked ourselves, a group of Libyans opened their family photo albums and told us about their lives to introduce us to what we do not know about our people and our country? We posed this question to the participants in this book, and how delighted we were that they responded to our invitation and welcomed us into their lives.

The "Album Libya" book brings together photos and stories from the personal journeys of many Libyan writers, poets, artists, and intellectuals, in a narrative mosaic covering various aspects of Libyans' lives since the mid-twentieth century. Through these stories, this book attempts to present a different image of Libya, which has often been covered in Arab and global media from a purely political perspective, focusing on oil, dictatorial rule, and power struggles. Therefore, this book—dear reader—is an attempt to reconsider Libya and to confront the image portrayed by politicians and their conflicts, as well as an attempt to reclaim this responsibility and hand it over to Libyans as individuals, to their artists and writers, to provide a human portrayal of their country.

"Album Libya" gives us stories and images from all over the country, offering an intimate impression of our cultural, ethnic, and geographic diversity. This book contains tales of people we cherish, experiences that have shaped our minds and hearts, and places that have left a profound mark on us. These stories and images affirm that Libyans are a diverse people, sharing humanity's joys, sorrows, hopes, and expressions that encompass longing, nostalgia, joy, and irony.

One concept this book seeks to reconsider, perhaps more than others, is our understanding of belonging. In Libya, as in almost every country in our region, belonging descends from the top of society, from the ruling or dominant authority to the citizens. This concept is disseminated among citizens and socially integrated through textbooks, media, and political discourse. However, this conditioning leads individuals to blame themselves if they question it or feel embarrassed if they deviate from it. This indoctrination is, in fact, a socialization that penetrates individuals and may make them blame themselves if they question it or feel embarrassed if they deviate from it.

In this regard, our poet Salem Al Awkali reminds us that during the era of dictatorship, and in most countries in our region, "we were shadows, sacrificing our individuality to the nation's desires as expressed by the ruling power and its dominant discourse." Undoubtedly, this homogenization of individuals and the marginalization of their voices played a role in suppressing society as a whole. Any sense of belonging cannot endure unless individuals are allowed to express it in their own way. Belonging is not a broken record echoed by the masses; genuine feelings demand renewal in words, melodies, and symbols that reflect people's lives, developments, and changes.

Belonging must stem from individuals' love for their experiences, the places they have lived, and the people they have known, a love for the time fate has granted them to spend in this part of the earth, where they have exchanged compassion and affection with others. The belonging we should strive for is a living fabric of genuine feelings for real people, consisting of different impressions that coalesce in their diversity, reviving our loyalty to the entity that unites us because we find in it reasons, means, and evidence for alignment. We belong to this place together not because of the myths and clichés society teaches us, but because each of us has our own anthem and our own story that we have cherished throughout our lives, with high value that is unique to us.

"Album Libya" embodies this initial definition of belonging, with stories told by individuals about their lives and images containing love, joy, nostalgia, confession, loss, blame, reproach, fun, wonder, discovery, and gratitude for this homeland that inhabits us, as Dr. Mohamed El Mefti, who participated with us in this book, described it. This book is also the first step in our intention to preserve national memory, person by person, image by image, to enlarge the tapestry of the nation and to diversify the means of knowing ourselves.

As editors, we cannot but thank the contributors to this book. Some shared their stories and images early on and waited two years for these narratives to come together, while others we discovered through their writings elsewhere and included them here. Some needed a lot of encouragement to write, and when they did, we asked for more. Some we miss now, having entrusted us with their stories as treasures, and passed away before this book saw the light. Each story was a valuable addition to this album, which has become a record of a large family we felt belonging to due to the frequency of our readings and reflections on its images.

We extend our gratitude to the team at Haroof Design Office for their patience in helping us design something rooted in our culture yet elevated to represent our aspirations. We also thank the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), particularly the North Africa Program, who diligently supported us financially and morally to achieve this project. Finally, we thank you, our dear readers, for coming to this gathering and for your desire to learn about Libya through our stories and images. Welcome to Album Libya.