‘Interference’ light festival brings medina of Tunis to life

“Interference” took festivalgoers on a nocturnal journey through the medina and its nearby streets.
Sunday 16/09/2018
The work of multidisciplinary designer and media artist Tilen Sepic on display at the Rachidia Institute in Tunis. (Interference)
Mesmerising show. The work of multidisciplinary designer and media artist Tilen Sepic on display at the Rachidia Institute in Tunis. (Interference)

TUNIS - Unlike most nights, the alleys and walls of Tunis’s medina did not sink into pitch black and silence in early September but came to life as the site of a sprawling art festival attracting thousands of visitors.

“Interference,” a biannual light festival in Tunis, took festivalgoers on a nocturnal journey through the medina and its nearby streets, where works of art were showcased with light as an elemental medium.

The event has proven popular with people looking to explore the deep corners of Tunis’s old medina and showcased the country’s unique architecture and cultural heritage. Thousands of visitors enjoyed vibrant art installations around the medina and attended discussions of contemporary art.

Festival co-founder Aymen Gharbi said “Interference” was an important learning experience for artists and participants.

“We started in 2016 and the idea was to tackle the issue of contemporary art in the medina of Tunis. The idea was to highlight the heart of the medina and its gems,” Gharbi said. “This year, we had 40 artists from different parts of the world.”

Featuring dozens of artworks from international and national artists, “Interference” was the first light festival of its kind in Africa, Gharbi said.

“The idea is to immerse the artists in the medina and to explore the nocturnal side of the medina through the art installation in public spaces and outside the medina,” he said. “We also work on the interference between art and the medina as artists participate in residencies to live and immerse themselves in the medina.”

This year, the festival focused on the cultural heritage and patrimony of the medina.

“Culture encloses different elements and its construction is a collective process that everyone contributes to,” Gharbi said. “This is why we wanted to focus in this edition of interference on the idea of reflecting on decoding the concepts that make up culture.”

American artist Andy Behrle used his artwork to explore different manifestations of light in the tiles and doors of the medina.

“One of my artwork is called ‘Bab,’ which was created using digital video footage that captured the sea in motion replacing the wood of the doors. The way I came to understand the history of Tunis in Tunisia is that the sea has always been a doorway, a gateway in the world. I wanted to bring those ideas together,” Behrle said.

“For me, the medina is 1,200 years of layers of history from people from all over the region. It is rich with a vastness of cultures that have come together to become something unique in Tunisia.”

Other artists sought to combine other elements with light to explore the medina’s heritage. French visual artist Yukao Nagemi, for instance, connected music with light in a mesmerising performance.

“I tried to reflect on what touches me when it comes to patrimony and how to use it in my art,” Nagemi said. “I wanted to work on sharing the visual space with other musicians and other artists. This year, my light installation will feature musicians from the medina, particularly stambeli musicians. They are the emblem of Tunisian patrimony, which is rich, and because I am interested in their spiritual richness.”

Tunisian artist Aziz Aissaoui, inspired by his passion for environmental advocacy, used straws in his light installation to draw people’s attention to the issue of plastic waste.

“The issue with straws is that they can’t be recycled,” Aissaoui said. “In 25 years, the mass of waste will be more than the mass of the fish.”

He added: “Cultural heritage can be the environment that surrounds us, which is very important for me. That is something to always reflect on. For me working on an environmental cause touches our cultural heritage. Heritage is not just man-made. It is also what we have in our environment that needs to be preserved.”

With unique works of art creatively exhibited throughout Tunis’s charming medina, “Interference” was a beautiful display of Tunisia’s rich artistic and architectural value.