‘Dream City’ puts spotlight on Tunis’s old medina
Tunis - At the entrance of the medina, Bab el-Bhar (“the Sea Gate”) was covered in barbed wire, sparkling under the rays of the sun; an art installation by Tunisian artist Nidhal Chamekh. A few metres away, people performed a dance around a fountain.
The artwork and dance were parts of “Dream City,” a biannual festival of artistic performances in unfamiliar corners of the old city of Tunis. This year’s, visitors were given a map of festival performance sites and left to navigate with the help of directing arrows on the walls.
Founded in 2007 by Tunisian choreographers Selma and Sofiane Ouissi, the festival transformed the medina of Tunis into “Dream City,” giving participants an opportunity to celebrate various art disciplines and explore the old city.
“We are a part of the medina and its inhabitants are our partners throughout this journey,” said Sofiane Ouissi. “They welcomed us with wide arms since the beginning so what we do here, we do it for the Medina as we seek to create free and artistic spaces. The medina is a space for people from all walks of life and for all visions of arts.”
He added: “We are not a charity but we have a social impact through our artistic visions because we work with this community. The medina is not just walls. It has souls and people who live here all the time… With this project, we bring back the value of the medina and its people. Many of the unemployed youth of the medina worked on this festival.”
Exhibits from 27 artists were featured at the festival, with much of their work focusing on social issues, such as human rights, unemployment and reintegration.
Malek Gnaoui’s art installation displayed testimonies of ex-convicts.
“My work is inspired by the stories I collected from former prisoners,” Gnaoui said. “Some stories stand out almost in a mythical way, which I wanted to emphasise in my work. It documents and explores that life. Just because they are former prisoners, it does not mean they are not human.”
“I participated before in Dream City and it has always offered a new perspective of art,” he said. “This time my art installation is hosted in an old house in the medina, which is to be explored.”
Sofiane Ouissi emphasised the festival’s goals of defending and promoting Tunisian artists and Tunisian heritage as well as encouraging young peoples.
“It is important to work with the community on promoting these visions to defend Tunisians and to show the richness of the country and the land. The power of the youth here is amazing but they need space of expression. For this edition, we have young artists with a lot of potential,” Ouissi said.
“This is the true value of our country, its education and its potential,” he added. “You just need to invest in people and give them room. The idea is to give room for these artists whether they are national or international. Dream City gives them the room to work.”
This year’s festival included 20 performances, including video installations and theatrical works. Many incorporated elements or characters inspired by the medina’s neighbourhoods and its inhabitants and took place in obscure places in the medina, such as deserted houses, cafés and rooftops. The festival featured three concerts and daily panel discussions on the city’s urban structure and artistic scene.
“Tunis can be a capital of art with the energy and potential of its youth,” said Ouissi, who noted that the festival aimed to showcase the artist’s role as a citizen. “This year the festival animated the city from 10am until midnight.”
Dream City attracted a great number of attendees of all ages, who stumbled into artistic performances in all corners of the old city. Inhabitants of the medina took part in the event, which illuminated the sprawling alleys with bright art and music.
“This edition of Dream City is rich with many performances. Every year it brings vibrant energy and life to the medina and it revives the forgotten and unknown parts of the old city of Tunis,” said Wafa Triki, who attended the festival. “The fact that they had workshops and panels in the morning and a show in the evening was a good idea.”
“This is the festival of all. Let’s chase away the sadness and celebrate,” said Ouissi.