One of the countries affected by the recent No Travel Ban is Libya. Of the African countries, Libya is the fourth largest, laying along the Mediterranean Sea to the North, and neighboring with Egypt to the east. Most western people have never been to Libya or ever dreamed to, since the Middle East has been a relatively volatile place since 2011 when the Arab Spring caused every day people to rally against political regimes who were failing to rule their countries peacefully and democratically. Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1973 until his demise in 2011, that we all watched in gruesome detail on television.
As much as the unrest and upheaval we’ve witnessed in recent years may turn us off to Libya as a valuable cultural leader, we should not dismiss the value of its heritage as a place and it’s people as contributors to a world full of beauty.
The city of Ghadames is a sight to behold. Inside it’s earthen buildings, the decorations around windows and doorways have been painted with a red lattice pattern on white washed walls. Truly a textile lover’s dream come true, these rooms inspired by the maker’s imagination and traditional motifs are incredible.
The Romans found value in Libya during the 5th century. The Italians colonized Libya in the early 1900’s and left behind some Italian linguistic traits and cuisine (in the west of Libya, pasta is a common dish to accompany meat). But, moreover, in a place where rainfall can happen less than once in a decade, Libyans learned to farm in patterns and thrive in a desert climate. The largest irrigation system in the world, called the “Great Man-Made River” consists of over 1,300 wells and 1,750 miles of aqueducts which supplies fresh water to most of the country! My obsession with images of pivot irrigation systems begins:
From a textile design perspective, these manmade patterns are fascinating. Normally, nature has a wild way with the land, growing in patterns which are organic and free (called a “field”). But farming generally goes in opposition to naturally occurring patterns; having organized rows, or in this case being dictated by the way the water covers the ground (called a “stack”). I wanted to create a stack pattern using these hexagon shapes, and remembered the drawings of M.C. Escher in my sketchbook.
A mathematician and also an artist, Escher was famous for his optical illusions. His hyperrealistic drawings and his agility with regards to creating tessellations. WHY AM I SUCH A NERD? Because my dad is a math teacher. I used to do tessellations for FUN as a child. This lead me to a career in textile design, though I didn’t know it until graduate school while I was TA’ing a print class and suddenly yelled “A tessellation!” when the professor was explaining designs that are complex and “puzzle piece” together.
To get back to my point, Escher had never been to the Middle East, as far as I know. But, he did study Moorish architecture and Islamic tile patterns. Much of his work reflects a commitment to and understanding of geometry, which originated in the Middle East. With my BA in Middle Eastern Studies and Art you can now see where much of my love for pattern is closely tied to cultural traditions from the eastern regions of the world. It’s also why my heart is heavy when hearing that Muslims are not welcome in my country— That regions of the world are banned at all alarms me. I wonder how to combat the omission of the value and worth of these peoples as citizens of the greatest melting pot on Earth…… Can an artwork summon compassion and/or change? Can this design be a place holder? Once we use a wallpaper, inspired by Libya, and welcome it into our powder rooms and kitchens– could it symbolically be a white flag of surrender to the rest of the world?
Perhaps it’s an artist’s dream that her work can be a micro-revolution. That the personal is the most political decision we make on a daily basis. But, if I were to sneak these ‘ideas’ into a beautifully designed space, and the homeowner could see it’s beauty then in turn she would be saying “I embrace the culture of a foreign place. I welcome it into my home.” If that is possible, then my work is done.