‘Carthage Days’ celebrates contemporary art in Tunis

Workshops tied to the festival were held in the regions of Kasserine and Tataouine where students of art schools collaborated.
Sunday 08/12/2019
Lively scene. Artists paint a mural in Tataouine.         (JAAC)
Lively scene. Artists paint a mural in Tataouine. (JAAC)

TUNIS - Celebrating its second edition, the Carthage Days for Contemporary Art created a colourful and vibrant atmosphere in the halls of the Tunis City of Culture, the museum of Bardo and the Palace of El Abdellia, where five exhibitions were inaugurated as part of the festivities.

“The second edition mixes the Tunisian experience with the international context and foreign artists. It brings the experiences of Tunisian artists closer, especially that we are working on establishing the museum for contemporary art and preserving the national heritage of contemporary art,” Mohamed Zine El Abidine, Tunisia’s minister of cultural affairs, said during the inauguration of the exhibition at the City of Culture.

One of the goals of the festival was to display and highlight the work of Tunisian artists as well as setting an international market for artists to share their expertise. It also had the five exhibitions in different art galleries, including the Bardo Museum, which hosted an exhibition dedicated to engraving and drawing.

Inviting audiences to art galleries, talks and workshops, the festival also dedicated several exhibitions to showcasing sculptures, paintings and a special exhibition for the history of posters as artwork since 1970.

“The international exhibition invited 26  foreign artists and 32 Tunisian artists. We also organised an exhibition for art galleries to show art collections from different countries, including Turkey, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Libya, Sudan and Qatar in addition to a national exhibition with works of art produced post-revolution,” said Sameh Habachi, director of the Carthage Days for Contemporary Art.

Habachi also stressed the importance of having different exhibitions to accommodate all forms of contemporary art, including the most recent and unconventional one.

“More than 150 Tunisians participated and we wanted to have many exhibitions to give more opportunities for more artists to gain visibility and to communicate between Tunisians and foreign artists and why not create a market for contemporary art in Tunisia,” Habachi said.

Workshops tied to the festival were also in the regions of Kasserine and Tataouine where students of art schools collaborated.

“We focused on taking workshops to other regions working on graffiti and street art. We worked in transportation stations, alleys with the youth of the regions and students of the arts schools. Another workshop was dedicated to mapping in archaeological sites in Sbeitla and Ksour to showcase the patrimony through contemporary art,” Habachi said.

“Art at Work,” which suggests the idea of examining art and artists in the process of their creations, was a slogan adopted for the event.“We wanted to stress that contemporary art reflects what we are living today. It is not disconnected from what we live in,” Habachi said.

Tunisian and foreign artists who participated in the festival highlighted the way art reflects the context of the country and the concerns of people.

“My photography centres on depicting the margins: those who are not heard… the minorities. The world reflected in my art today becomes an evanescent reality but remains reflective of the current situation of Tunisia,” Greek/Tunisian artist Marianne Catzaras explained.

Artists participating in the festival said, contemporary art does not alienate the audience. Leila Rokbani also stressed the role of contemporary art in bringing more colours to a grim reality and a new vision to a serious issue. Collecting objects from garbage and the surroundings, Rokbani creates installations with fantastical elements.

“I distort reality to another dimension to make it hilarious, funny, sarcastic. I try to bring the mysterious and the disastrous to an ironic or hilarious aspect to give a message of hope and also to sensitise people on the actual reality,” Rokbani said.

She added: “My installation presents a population, a troop of personas who are the fruit of our consumption, our fruit. They are made of leftovers and garbage that present a reflection of a world that cohabits with us but we are not necessarily conscious.”

The festival also provided a forum for artists and gallery owners to discuss the problems they encounter in Tunisia, especially with a dwindling number of art galleries and lack of opportunities to display their work.

“The Tunisia scene is eclectic. There is so much potential and [many] artists but we don’t have space to showcase and not many events. Hopefully, these days become a tradition offering a yearly opportunity,” explained Mouna Jemal Siala, a teacher at Institut Superieur des Beaux-Arts in Tunis.

Owners of galleries were also present at the festival, talking about their facilities and, at times, negotiating the possibilities available to provide a market for art.

“The issue is that selling Tunisian art, which is considered patrimony, is prohibited abroad. You are not allowed to sell what is considered patrimony. The ministry of culture monopolises the market, in a way. We need to translate this into a balance with the ministry to provide more opportunities for artists to expose their work, ’’ Karim Sghaier, owner of El Birou Gallery in Sousse, explained.

Despite the closing of many art galleries, Emna Ben Yedder, an art gallery owner, remains hopeful with regards to the contemporary art scene.

“We wanted to settle in downtown Tunis since it is important to have art more visible in this neighbourhood, which used to have at least 13 art galleries. There is still a lively scene. We are, after all, a society that is very emotional which could do the best and the worst but remains an inspiration for art,” Ben Yedder said.

Colours invading the city. An artist works on a mural in Tataouine.         (JAAC)
Colours invading the city. An artist works on a mural in Tataouine. (JAAC)