Benghazi museum shows scars, triumphs of Libya revolt

Wed Aug 31, 2011 2:55pm EDT
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By Alexander Dziadosz

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Free for the first time to make art about whatever he wants, veteran Libyan sculptor Ali al-Wakwak chose gnarled mortar shrapnel, bullet casings and shattered gun barrels as his medium.

"I saw the ammunition around, and so I thought I'd make something nice with it," the stout, bearded 63-year-old said as he sat sipping espresso outside a new art museum displaying his works near Benghazi's port.

As with many of the exhibits at the museum, housed in a monarchy-era palace, Wakwak's motifs revolve mostly around war, testament to the scars the six-month old uprising against Muammar Gaddafi has left on the North African country.

But the fact the new museum exists at all is a triumph for local artists, and many see it as evidence of the creative and open future they hope awaits their country despite its fractious politics, beleaguered public services and glut of heavy weapons.

"It was very difficult before," Sayed Mohamed, a 58-year-old painter, said. "Gaddafi hated anyone famous. He was the only one who could be famous. He was the leader, he was the guide - he was everything. You had to draw him and what he was doing. That was all you could draw."

Now, Mohamed said, he is free to depict and display whatever he wants. His exhibit included oil paintings of landscapes inspired by impressionists and post-impressionists including Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh.

"I like flowers and mountains because we have flowers and mountains in our country. We want to show the world we have beautiful places in our country."

In the next room, a series of wood carvings portrayed traditional Libyan shoes, horse-drawn carriages and jars.   Continued...

<p>A Kingdom of Libya flag is raised as Libyan Muslims react during Eid prayers at Green Square in Tripoli August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi</p>