What to Do with Sudden Openess?
Cultural researcher Leila Tayeb goes to Libya to research the role of women, art and music in the Libyan revolution.
The Libyan revolution has left the country open to many new possibilities. Both the Libyans in their homeland and those in diaspora are seeking to rebuild their country and re-establish their true identity. Leila Tayeb conducts a field visit to Tripoli and Benghazi to reconnect to the Libyan people and understand the role of culture, gender and music in this new phase of Libya's history.
I went to Libya twice for a total of about 6 weeks. I spent the first three weeks in Benghazi and the second three weeks in Tripoli. My short term aim from this trip was to produce two things. One is a scholarly article on gender and the role of women in the Libyan revolution. A first draft has already been written and I am working on the second. The other is film footage of interviews with artists, musicians and regular people who engaged with artistic expression during the revolution – also still a work in progress. Traveling to Libya as a graphic filmer was a new experience for me. I wanted to connect with people who would tell me about their experiences of art in the context of the revolution and I was able to speak with musicians, a few visual artists and also quite a few people – particularly women - who did not consider themselves as artists but at the same time were making a lot of crafts that were feeding into the revolution.
As a resident of New York, the academic presumptions of cultural reality and direction can be far removed from reality on the ground and it was important to visit and experience first hand what was most meaningful to the Libyan people themselves.
My origins are Libyan and I am passionate about helping, researching and documenting the Libyan people current transformation as they start to discover their own voice now that the dictatorship era is over.
The type of footage I collected from my fieldtrip is pretty diverse and I am now in the process of organizing it. Some clips are interviews of people talking about their experiences as listeners to music and how music affected them during the revolution and how they listened to music differently. Some are interviews of well-known rock groups and hip hop groups while some are performance footage. My vision for this footage is to be able to create a film that is tentatively titled- ‘Men Antum?!” – This phrase is absolutely central in the uprising. It spurred popular culture into revolution when, early on, in one of Gaddafi’s speeches addressing the revolutionaries, “rats” as he called them, he demanded angrily, “Men antum?!” (“Who are you?!”)
His question shook Libyan society to the core. It brought out the fight in them and they rose up because they couldn’t take his disdain anymore. The amount of music that came out playing on Gaddafi’s affronting statements is remarkable, not only in Libya but across the Arab world. ‘Men antum?!’ made the people of Libya rise up to show the tyrant exactly who they were and what they were made of.
The question was also poignant, even if Gaddafi couldn’t have known it. At the time of my visits, the revolution had been won and a period had begun in which work and self-reflection was central to move forward. How will Libya proceed? What does Libya without Gaddafi look like? The question thus shifts from “men antum?” to “men nahnu?” – the accusative “Who are we?” to the reflective “Who are we and who do we want to be?”