Inside Tunisia’s City of Culture

The mega-centre will host the House of Poetry, House of the Novel and the Tunis Institute of Translation.
Sunday 25/03/2018
Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak performs at the opening concert of the City of Culture in Tunis. 	  (City of Culture)
Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak performs at the opening concert of the City of Culture in Tunis. (City of Culture)

TUNIS - From cinemas to art galleries to an opera-ballet, Tunisia’s newly inaugurated City of Culture boasts a range of independent cultural and artistic spaces.

One of the first to open its doors was the Tunisian Cinematheque, an audiovisual library dedicated to preserving Tunisian cinema. Inaugurated March 21, featuring Italian-Tunisian actress Claudia Cardinale as the guest of honour, the centre stores an extensive database of audiovisual references.

“It is very important to have such a library for the history of the country and the national record,” said Tunisian Minister of Culture Mohamed Zine el-Abidine at a news conference. “Culture should bring back the positive image of Tunisia.”

Also on display during the attraction’s opening week was the exhibition “A Tunisian Modernity 1830-1930,” a retrospective on Tunisia’s cultural and intellectual contributions during the period. Among the items showcased was the founding text of the abolition of slavery, written by Ahmed I Bey on January 23, 1846.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who toured the exhibit following the inaugural ceremony, emphasised the role of the “City of Culture” in promoting freedom of expression.

“There is no creativity without freedom and one of the achievements of the revolution is freedom of expression and creation,” Caid Essebsi said.

Zine el-Abidine said the media played no small part in safeguarding that tradition.

“Media [are] the foundation of cultural expression…We want to have a constructive relationship with the press,” he said, adding that a press club would be set up on the complex.

Also in the City of Culture is the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which hosts a permanent exhibition of plastic arts. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and other institutions, the museum aims to “establish interactions with the connoisseur and layman public of all ages through adapted teaching tools,” with a special focus on Tunisia’s young.

The mega-centre will host the House of Poetry, House of the Novel and the Tunis Institute of Translation, each acting as a resource for authors, creators, researchers and readers.

Zine el-Abidine said the literary centres would put Tunisia on track to “become a leader of culture in North Africa.”

Music and dance have prominent places in the City of Culture, with a choir and Opera Orchestra of Tunis to “bring together a core of the best instrumentalists and choristers of the country,” and the Tunis Opera Ballet, the New Tunisian Dance Ballet, the National Troupe of Popular Arts and the Choreographic Centre to be established.

Zine el-Abidine said the groups represented “an important achievement for the local Tunisian music scene” and the country’s broader goal of becoming a cultural hub.

“It’s not enough that we create an opera house… We also want to create cultural reference points,” he said.

A sculpture on display at the City of Culture complex in Tunis.  (City of Culture)
Visitors look at movie posters at the City of Culture complex in Tunis. 		(City of Culture)
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