Founded in 2015 in Tripoli, Scene seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of the Old City through experimental theatre, ‘museumification’ of the heritage site, oral history and memory works. Through site-specific activities, Scene fosters a sense of belonging between society and heritage which in turn promotes the valuing, protection, and continuation of the latter. By 2022, Scene aims to expand into an institute for traditional arts and conservation in order to sustain traditional skills and build a national workforce able to understand and preserve symbols of national identity.
WHY IS SCENE?
The Old City of Tripoli, the capital’s historical core, has always been heterogeneous and multi-cultural in nature; both in its tangible heritage and population. Today, this historic characteristic is forgotten with lack of public awareness and education. The society divided into groups, allowing forth racism, conflict and consequently an absence of a sense of belonging to one another and to the heritage site. The latter has further reflected negatively on the architecture in Tripoli as on architectural education.
To tackle this issue, Scene approaching with two parallel objectives: promoting the protection of cultural heritage, and using cultural heritage to promote a sense of belonging and a common social identity – bringing the plural social groups together by highlighting common history and common memories. Identity is a highly important element to work around because it signifies one’s membership of a society; individuals are bonded as a strong, unified society when they share a common identity, and identity is constructed upon the past (i.e. history and heritage).
There have been various efforts to protect built cultural heritage in the Old City of Tripoli over the past decades (before 2011); however, with very limited success. This lack of practical achievement resonated in the mind of the founder of Scene and she questioned the reasons in order to identify an approach that would lead to real, positive change.
In 2012 she interviewed several leading members of the past initiatives as well as personnels from the Office for Management of Historical Cities in effort to gain an insight into the difficulties faced and to learn from their experiences. She also referenced past Masters and Doctorate research papers which examine the issue, and carried out her own Masters and Doctorate research on the same topic. Furthermore, her previous experience managing Save the Old City Campaign (founded in 2011 in cooperation with 6 Libyan NGOs) allowed her to interact with the residents of the site and an understanding of various aspects of the problem. As a result of this in-depth study of the context and difficulties, it was concluded that one of the important factors preventing such initiatives to achieve a practical success was the method by which the issue was approached – particularly given the complexity and tension arising on the matter between contesting social groups.
Scene was thereby established, initiating a methodology that considers the symbolism of material heritage as a tool for collective memories and identities, and which approaches contestation and conflict through the subtlety of arts and theatre.
HOW DOES SCENE WORK?
Thus far, Scene has not sought grants for any of its projects. The team volunteer their time and efforts with no profit in return, and projects are designed for minimum expenditure. In occasions where more participants are required, a call for volunteers is announced on social media, often with high response rate. These volunteers are awarded either by certificates of appreciation or by an invitation to attend free seminars that benefit their careers. In events where tools were required, team members of Scene as well as members of the public donate or lend the required prompts for the period of the event. On some occasions, we have received small amounts of money voluntarily donated by members of the public during activities as a gesture of support and to participate with us by any means possible to them at the time – this money was used to provide refreshments and tools for the participants at the particular event.
WHAT HAS SCENE DONE?
(First 6 months from date established)
Methodology: Members of the public were invited to cultural events within the widely-avoided Old City. In order to ease the public into the site, our events advanced gradually from simple tours which end with a brief revival of traditions and folklore; clean-up and landscape campaigns which merged the children of the Old City with volunteers and various groups of the Libyan society; and finally artist seminars and workshops which begin to promote the heritage site as a center for culture (an aim long sought by various efforts, but unsuccessful due to their firm and large-scale approach).
Result: Our aim was to use the un-expecting participants as characters within an un-announced site-specific performance. These simple activities communicated a narrative which echoed the objectives of Scene and raised awareness to the importance of the heritage site – by the public themselves. Solely focused on the activities and place, various groups of a fragmented society came together.
Media, social media, and word-of-mouth provided a stage to connect with further audience.
(Months 7-12 from date established)
Methodology: Proceeding with the concept of using the audience as characters within the performance, thereby influencing a sense of belonging and persuading common memories, the narrative became more pronounced in educating on: detailed traditions and historical characters; general account of modern history and the successive multi-cultural colonization; the historical uses of significant buildings/spaces in the heritage site.
A public tour of the Saraya (Tripoli Castle) attended by hundreds, arranged by Scene, and noted by the Saraya authorities to be the first of its kind and size.
Traditional Tripoli Eid Al-Fitr, at the Old City, in effort to revive and preserve increasingly forgotton Tripoli traditions. Significant historical characters, social customs, and forgotten chanting from the historic souk (market) were re-enacted as they were performed for hundreds of years.
Both events and others were reported by Aljazeera Live, Aljazeera News, REUTERS, and a number of local media.
Result: These events resulted in a significant improvement of public awareness of the history of Tripoli and the value of its cultural heritage. Traditions were revived, triggering common memories in the elder generations and a will to preserve them, and identity was passed onto the younger generations by a chance to experience what was long lost.
At this stage, Scene received a wave of contacts by members of the public reporting vandalized artifacts and heritage sites, as well as questions regarding history and recommended references. The sought heritage preservation campaign has naturally started itself, and a part of the society found common ground with common history and memories.
Methodology: Scene’s events move further towards announced theatrical projects, where aspects of theatre production and script-writing are introduced. As site-specific theatre, the narratives reflect the stories of the Old City and its historic events.
The purpose of this approach, using arts and theatre, is to attract wider groups and age-range of the public on the value of heritage protection – reaching out beyond the small community (mostly retired people from the field) already interested in history and archeology and which are the sole and same attendees of the seminars and lectures on the topic.