Tunisia's Art Scene
Rachida Triki, Tunisian curator and writer, is a professor of Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art at Tunis University. She is also president of the Tunisian Aesthetic Association (ATEP); a key figure, or member, of several international associations; organizer of international conferences and seminars in arts and aesthetics, and editor and author of many publications, essays and monographs. She regularly organizes contemporary art exhibitions, and has co-produced twenty-five documentary films on Tunisian artists.
Haupt & Binder: Could you please briefly summarize the main focus of your professional activities? You are very active and committed in the academic and theoretical field. How and why did you also become involved in curating exhibitions?
Rachida Triki: I’m a full professor of philosophy and theory of art. For many years now, I’ve also been an art critic of North African art with a natural focus on Tunisian artists. During this time, I followed very closely the evolution of the contemporary visual art scene and the artists’ works. And as president of ATEP I was always eager to getting academics and artists together by organising meetings and workshops. So curating came naturally to me. After I started my involvement in the selection of artists for art exhibitions, I took a step forward and started building up experience in curating national and international exhibitions. In my curatorial work, I am particularly motivated to promote the work of Tunisian and North African contemporary artists who live in their countries, and don’t have enough international visibility.
Haupt & Binder: As co-curator of the Pontevedra Art Biennial in 2008, in charge of the Tunisian selection, from six Tunisian artists, you chose five women artists. And for this year's Dak'Art Biennale –also as co-curator–, you chose Mouna Jemal Siala from Tunisia. Are female artists in Tunisia particularly strong in the country’s current art scene?
Rachida Triki: Indeed. Since the 1990s, the Tunisian contemporary art scene saw the emergence of a remarkable creativity in the work of young women artists. By using many different media they try to express personal or socio-cultural experiences. It is also a demographical factor. These artists are usually graduated from Art Schools which have much more female than male students.
Haupt & Binder: Which are the main art schools in Tunisia, or what other art-related career do young people follow in order to become artists?
Rachida Triki: For many years since the 1930s, there was only one Art School in Tunisia, the "Ecole des Beaux Art de Tunis" and some private artists’ ateliers where young people could practice art. By the end of last century, two other fine art schools were founded, one in Sfax and another in Sousse, respectively the second and third most important towns in the country. Today –and for four years now– there are about twelve more public art schools, the "Ecole d’Art et Métiers", which are less focused on fine arts, and more on multimedia. This recent spectacular growth on the number of art students has certainly boosted the interest for art-related events but not necessarily produced more quality artists on the national and international scene yet.
Haupt & Binder: The last exhibition that you have curated, "La part du corps," opened on May 14 at Palais Kheïreddine in Tunis. Could you please describe your approach and concept?
Rachida Triki: In an Arabo-Islamic country, it is important that artists remind and highlight the importance of the body in the private, social, and cultural life. That is why today, an intercultural event around the concept of the limits and excesses of the body can give food for thought on our present. The exhibition presents nineteen artists from Europe and Tunisia. The artists question within their own imagination the frontiers of the body beyond its usual representations: Constraint Body / Emancipated Body, Marketable Body / Resistant Body, Ethnic Body / Mixed Race Body.
Haupt & Binder: The Palais Kheïreddine, as the Musée de la Ville de Tunis, what kind of art collection does it have?
Rachida Triki: The Palais Kheïreddine is a not a real museum. It has no private collection or any proper funding. But it is an ideal place for contemporary art exhibitions that have specific space needs. It is also a stately palace built during the 1860s. Ideally located inside the medina, its architecture is a beautiful mix of Ottoman and Italian style.
Haupt & Binder: Museums for modern and contemporary art are increasingly seen as an important factor in a city’s urban development, and symbolic cultural sovereignty, as can be followed, for example, in the discussion around the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain d'Alger or in the Gulf countries. Are there any thoughts or concrete plans in this direction in Tunisia?
Rachida Triki: Indeed. A museum of modern and contemporary art is also in construction in Tunisia. It is expected to open in 2011 and will hold the current state-owned art collection. This collection consists of a selection of Tunisian art works from the beginning of last century onwards. In addition to this permanent collection, the museum is likely to hold temporary exhibits. Similarly to Algeria’s MAMA, this new museum is expected to contribute further to promote local art development.
Haupt & Binder: What is the role of commercial art galleries in Tunisia? Do they take on broader cultural responsibilities? For example, Le Violon Blue Gallery just opened an exhibition "Hiwar - Dialogue" with artists from Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia. Is this show an exception in the gallery program?
Rachida Triki: There are already few local art galleries that, for a number of years now, have been exhibiting contemporary art works, promoting contemporary Tunisian art, and generating public curiosity –like Gallery El Marsa, Gallery Ammar Farhat and the Dar Cherif Centre. The last exhibition of Le Violon Blue Gallery is certainly a result of current local public awareness and the demand for contemporary art and intercultural exchanges.
Haupt & Binder: Is there an independent art scene emerging in the country, are there artist-run spaces, initiatives or events?
Rachida Triki: Indeed. A parallel independent art scene is now emerging thanks to the efforts of young artists and private art collectors. There are already some private artist-run spaces and initiatives and events like "Dream City," a street art event initiated by two young Tunisian independent cultural activists, which has its second edition in preparation for October this year.