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TRIPOLI: A seemingly ordinary villa in the center of Tripoli houses the works of the late Libyan artist Ali Gana, whose family has turned his house into a unique museum.
In the North African country, which is still grappling with division and conflict after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, “art is on the back burner,” said Hadia Gana, the youngest of the artist’s four children.
A decade in the making and with the help of volunteers, she transformed the classical-style Tripolitanian villa her father built before he died in 2006 at the age of 70 into “Libya’s first and only museum of modern art,” Gana said. .
Bayt Ali Gana — “Ali Gana’s House” in Arabic — finally opened this year and seeks to offer retrospection and hope in a country constantly threatened by violence and where art and culture are largely neglected.
“It’s seen as something superfluous,” Gana said, adding that galleries in the country often focus solely on selling works instead of making art more accessible.
After passing the lush garden, visitors come to the museum’s permanent exhibition of paintings, sculptures and sketches by the master Ali Gana.
Other rooms include temporary exhibitions and provide space for seminars and thematic workshops.
An old shipping container mounted on a wall houses an artist residency for “curators and museologists,” whose skills are in short supply in Libya, Hadia Gana said.
Libyan artists were long subject to censorship and self-censorship under Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, and “we couldn’t express ourselves about politics,” recalls Gana, 50, a ceramic artist.
Art “should have no barriers,” she said, standing proudly in the family’s space for artistic freedom.
Bayt Ali Gana seems timeless, although the villa bears some signs of the turmoil that followed the overthrow and death of Gaddafi.
A road sign riddled with bullets hangs on the door that separates the museum from the private residence.
Upside-down mortar shells lie among the flowers in the garden, where visitors are offered cold drinks or Italian espresso in a setting that mimics Cafe Said, once owned by Ali Gana’s father in Tripoli’s old medina.
During the unrest that began in 2011, Hadia Gana said she feared she would “lose everything if a rocket hit the house”.
Then came the idea of ​​establishing a museum in the hope of preserving my father’s valuable works and archives.
Intermittent fighting, water or power outages and enforced isolation due to the Covid pandemic have challenged the family’s mission, while the Ghanaians have shunned government funding or investors to preserve the independence of their nascent institution.
Gradually, the house was transformed into a cultural center that celebrates Ali Gana’s call to “teach and educate through art,” according to his daughter.
“It’s not a mausoleum,” she said, but a center of creativity and education.
Gana’s archives also document traditional trades and crafts, some of which have completely disappeared to this day.
After seizing power in a coup in 1969, Gaddafi banned all private businesses and “for 40 years craft became a forbidden activity,” said the late artist’s eldest son Mehdi, who now lives in the Netherlands.
He said Ali Gana took on a mission in his life to “build archives to connect Libya’s past with a possible future.”
“It’s in the nature of family” to preserve and share knowledge, said 84-year-old matriarch Janine Rabiau-Gana.
Hadia Gana lamented that museums should be educational spaces, “here in Libya we don’t have that concept yet.”
She said she wanted to avoid “making it a museum where everything is jumbled up.”
Instead, “I wanted something lively, almost playful, and above all, a city that arouses curiosity in all its beauty.”

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