Counter-territories: A Libyan/international counter space

Sarri Elfaitouri
6 min readApr 22, 2022


Image: Curatorial Territoriality, a different approach to exhibition-making


It was our first project in Tajarrod Foundation that we were done with “Tahafut-incoherence” in 2020, which was an artistic-urban installation to question the established urban and architectural passivity in the cultural scene in post-war Benghazi, Libya. Covid-19 however was also freshly joining our list of post-war challenges to question our very existence. I was reading the Plague by Albert Camus and naively fantasizing like Rio “the main character”, a heroic way of dealing with the pandemic in Libya, and the World with my Tajarrod team, but unlike Rio’s medical tools, our tools weren’t practically consensual to target such planetary crisis, they were merely architectural and artistic.

I threw the fictional book aside and thought we could at least attempt to realize an alternative critical and creative practice that could perhaps mobilize an international discourse, and would not only target Libyan issues, but also global issues, through a network of Libyan and international architects, designers and activists.

“We cannot survive alone” the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek stated in one interview targeting the pandemic issue, we in Tajarrod — a group of young Libyan architects and artists aiming to reinvent architectural and artistic theory and practice in Libya and beyond- conceptualized the crisis as a global alert against the absence of a global inclusive critical architectural and artistic grounds, and from that point emerged the theme of Counter-territories as a response to worldwide challenges, to mobilize a global intelligence and liberate from cultural and professional isolation that specifically developing countries are suffering from the most, like Libya and others.


We curated an online platform named “UNIT X” a digital counter-ground in itself, a “heterotopia” bonding together more than 100 architects and urbanists, artists, experts, and students from more than 40 countries that we attracted through an online international open call, and started brainstorming and expanding the scope of the architect’s and artist’s arsenal of creative tools through our project Counter-territories, which was a digital international workshop, competition and finally an exhibition.

We were inspired by the ancient technique of “Counter-mapping” and prominent thinkers such as Edward Said and Edward Soja for their critical discourse on the issue of Land, representation, and resistance, and particularly the works of Palestinian architect and educator Dr. Yara Sharif from Westminster University, who used the tool of Counter-mapping actively in several of her projects, and whom we also collaborated with, together with other experts in the field such as Mr. Wesam Alasali, Dr. Silvia Covarino, Dr. Hossein Sadri, Ms. Nada Elfeituri and Mr. Altan Dervish, and Ms. Shang Yang. Counter-mapping became our main tool in this project, interrogating the counter-territories that each participant targeted in their projects, but how is counter-mapping relevant in today’s architecture and the art world?

Image: Counter-territories digital workshop week


Counter-mapping is an art of spatial and intellectual resistance, and that is by drawing maps that target and investigate cultural, political, social problems and injustices and reveal silent, invisible, and suppressed voices of lands and their people's struggles. We saw that this could be a potential common tool to be utilized by contemporary architects, geographers, urbanists, and artists as well, and since it was a nearly forgotten tool in present-day discourse it was time to reinvent it and give it a new mission.

We first started the Counter-territories program by organizing a series of introductory lectures given by the experts we collaborated with who emphasized various topics such as counter-coding, African urbanism, informality, orientalism, and many conversations, all aiming to widen the critical lens through which contemporary architects and artists could investigate the world they inhabit. Next, we opened the competition phase in a challenging spirit which encouraged the participants to look at their own context of choice, investigate it and produce counter-maps for it, and Unit X’s review board revised their works afterward on mid and final reviews to follow and instruct the development.

Finally after we selected the most qualified 15 entries, three of which were awarded the competition prize. composed of nearly 60 artworks and counter-maps, came then the final phase of the program, the exhibition, which displayed the selected works in Benghazi, Libya hosted by Barah Organization for Arts in an old building from the Italian colonial period in Libya.

Curatorial territoriality

Can we counter-territorialize the exhibition, we asked? To device a program for the exhibition that would exploit the promenade nature of the building it’s hosted in and make the experience of the spaces and artworks a critical one. A visitor enters the space on the ground level faced with a passport control counter (stimulation), handed a travel document-identity replacement (Booklet), and a double-faced travel ticket (Exhibition guide), gets entry stamps and a brief explanation of the exhibition that goes: “You have a ticket that has two sides, the magenta-colored one is a direct experience to the exhibition content, what is present, and the turquoise one is an intellectual journey, it’s all about what is absent, you are free to choose”, once you are handed your stamped documents you traverse the building spaces which have become “territories” through the exhibition program.

Image: Exhibition Space
Image: Tajarrod team, Zainab and Abdulatif stamping entries


Image: Double-sided ticket (double Programmation), parallel experiences, direct and inquisitive, banal and complex

that consists of a socio-political territory where it displays work targeting issues from this category, an urban territory, an ecological territory, and a cultural territory, which forms the programmatic aspect of the exhibition as content, which also acts as a critical statement against the formalist exhibition-making a scene in Libya, that dominantly focuses on appearance and display. In our case the human subject had to be perplexed and provoked, to read and think about the multiple immaterial layers of the experience beyond appearance.

On the second day of the exhibition event we organized an open discussion with hosting artists Tewa Bernosa, and Zainab Bobaker, and exchanged many polemics on contested identities, counter-geographies, cultural hegemony, the importance of counter-maps in the contemporary socio-political and cultural scene, and the critical role of the artist and architect towards local and global crisis as active agents. And finally, on the third day we had a collective movie night where we streamed the film: “200 meters” directed by: Ameen Nayfeh, and discussed it, which talks about a father’s tense adventure across the Palestinian territory, hampered by the Israeli colonial borders, towards the reunification of his family. The event attracted nearly 400 local visitors and received feedback from the audiences that experienced it, some were inspired, some were perplexed, and some were challenged and provoked by its curation and subjects, and we always accept that variety as a critical voice to even enrich our Project in general.


Counter-territories was an attempt to contribute with a critical global and thoughtful territory, mediated through solidarity composed of Libyan and international voices, and in such globally critical times that the world is facing we re-question again the established architectural and artistic isolated practices today and provoke a need to generate a global counter-culture.

Counter to passivity, silence, and isolated professionalism.

Finally, this project would not have been possible without the handwork of my passionate Tajarrod team:

Halah Eljhani — Marwa Griew — Mohammed Boshnaf — Mawadda Alobidy — Ikhlas Ilzaidi — Abdulatif algmati — Seraj Suliman — Naya Nama — Ali Mutturdi — Zainab Bobaker.

Unit X team: Dr. Silvia Covarino — Altan Dervish — Shan Yang

And the generous collaboration and contribution of Dr. Yara Sharif — Dr. Hossein Sadri — Wesam Al Asali — Nada Elfeituri- Haider Daoui — Tewa Bernosa.

And the support of: Barah culture and art organization — Byte Organization/Article 40 project.



Sarri Elfaitouri

Sarri is an architect, conceptual artist, and curator based in Benghazi Libya. He is the founder and CEO of TAJARROD Architecture and Art Foundation