I had a little mini-adventure when I arrived in Tripoli. I went to, er, sort of crashed, a party the U.S. Ambassador to Libya held at his compound. No, it wasn't this kind of situation. Everyone was really nice and let me in. The U.S. is promoting study-abroad programs for Libyan students. Hostesses passed out U.S.-Libyan lapel pins. The gathering was a Ramadan celebration that highlighted Muslim contributions to American society. There were large photos of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Keith Ellison. Large placards showcased the diversity of Islam in the U.S. (Perhaps a celebration of this order is needed in New York to stamp out the xenophobia around the building of an Islamic cultural center.) Meanwhile, I've had the opportunity to meet some amazing artists here. One of my favorite works is an untitled mixed media piece by Abdelsalam Shahumi. He tells me to call him Sami. The piece is pro-woman, pro-Africa with cut-out images depicting various females. Sami made a point of telling me that he doesn't like the hijab but isn't afraid to put it in his work as a critique. I was slightly amused when he kept emphasizing that he wasn't racist by putting in women of color in an African theme. I smiled and told him that as a woman of African descent I appreciated his perspective. I later interviewed a woman who paints Libyan women in traditional celebrations. There aren't many prominent female artists here.‚ I'll save that story for an audio piece.
Natalie is traveling to Libya under a fellowship from the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College.