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What's Gone Is Dead

Tasneem Sarkez

New York University


What’s gone is dead concerns the relationship that first-generation Americans – particularly diasporic Libyan-Americans – have with a fluctuating conception of home.


Inspired by the Libyan proverb

اللي فات مات

(“What’s gone is dead''), these paintings convey the doom of losing one’s tangible connection to the bilad (homeland). I explore how individuals like myself build a home independently, using these ancestral frameworks as I yearn for the comfort of return and reclamation. Since moving away from home, I’ve begun to question my decisions to remain in connection with Libyan culture, and how this connection permeates my everyday, American environment. How can I mobilize this feeling of sanctuary beyond the materiality of four walls, and into my personhood?

When my grandfather’s home was demolished in Tripoli, I felt this sense of death from the proverb: death in my accessibility to histories and experiences that I undervalued for years. Only recently did I become cognizant of a potential pitfall in proudly claiming Libya as my own. I wrestled with myself, asking: how does one grieve for a home that was never theirs in the first place? In these works I reference family archives, phrases, and physical objects I associate with my home in the U.S., and what once existed in Libya (in the bullets, textiles, and window frames). The lineage I come from is relived in these objects, which are enveloped in a blank space. The white space gives the objects room to breathe, stripping context from them and establishing a dialect between the viewer and the work that reveals its semiotic properties. That same white space can envelop and isolate these objects, as seen in Bullet in Baba’s window, reflecting a transitional loss into voidness when culture is compromised or stripped away from an individual. I visualize the beginnings (and ultimate endings) that follow a physical home. I choose what I want to carry with me as I lose the people and spaces that have provided me with a network to define what it means to be a Libyan living in America. The subjects of the paintings are reified through building a home. Citizens of multiple homes can never resolve the liminal tension of a ‘final return’ to an identity, but rather must accept an existence in permutations of it.

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