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Contemporary Art in Tunisia Post Revolution

In 1914, Paul Klee, like other artists, was inspired by the natural light and colours in nature and tapestries that Tunisia had to offer. Over a century later, Tunisian artists reclaimed their city with light art during the annual Interference Tunis light art festival.

Jaou Tunis is another annual art festival that since 2013 has been organised by the Kamel Lazaar Foundation, aimed at bringing heritage sites to life. This is the same foundation behind B7L9, the contemporary art space that opened its doors just outside Tunis in 2019. This venue and incubator, comprising a 1500 square metre art gallery, library and residency, is meant to show works by local and international artists but to also engage the poverty-stricken neighbourhood community. Besides the strong contemporary art galleries and spaces like Selma Feriani Gallery, A.Gorgi Gallery, Yosr  Ben Ammar Gallery, La Boite and some others, Tunis has hitherto lacked a functioning contemporary art museum. The state funded high-rise Cité de la Culture may technically contain a modern art museum, but is known to be unpopular with many artists. In November 2019, it housed one of the exhibitions of the Carthage Days for Contemporary Art.

Tunisia mainly sees its best contemporary artists in those who have been heavily engaged in their native Tunisian culture, whilst having developed techniques and means of expression acquired abroad. These include photographer Mouna Karray, represented by Tyburn Gallery; Nadia Kaabi Linke, represented by Dallas Contemporary; and Nidhal Chamekh and Ismail Bahri, represented by Selma Feriani Gallery.

Maher Gnaoui,The Lady, 2018-A. Gorgi Gallery

Young artists like Nidhal Chamekh and Maher Gnaoui are said to be saving the Tunisian contemporary art scene by offering their original aesthetic propositions, and by remaining far removed from the post-revolutionary opportunism displayed by the elder generation of artists who allowed government interference in the arts. Other artists like Nicene Kossentini, Lina Ben Rejeb, Amel Bennys, Rafik El Kamel, Jellel Gasteli and Thameur Mejri – who are all represented by Selma Feriani Gallery – are also taking the Tunisian art scene by storm, together with a few more represented by other galleries.

Ismail Bahri, Denouement, 2011-Selma Feriani Gallery

There appears to be a dearth of critical platforms as not a single academic review is dedicated to fine art in Tunisia. Nevertheless, art shows are taking place, and although Covid-19 has put a hold on most shows, in the coming months exhibitions such as the international art exhibition organised by Goethe Institute titled, Matter of Time, will take place between the 20th and 22nd May 2021 at Ennejma Ezzahra Palace in Sidi Bou Said. Ismail Bahri will be exhibiting at Selma Feriani Gallery until the 4th of April 2021.

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