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Home TAGPress Tunisie Tunisian Artist Majed Zalila: Rhythms and Expressions

Tunisian Artist Majed Zalila: Rhythms and Expressions

silencing-freedom-majed-zalilaMajed Zalila was born on January 3, 1981 in downtown Tunis. From a young age he always loved art and his pre-school teacher told his parents that he would be a master painter. He went to elementary school in the neighborhood of Tunis near the Barcelone train station. After receiving his high school diploma, he went to the college of fine arts known as ISAMS in Sfax. Growing up in metropolitan Tunis turned him into a regular people-watcher and provided him with the inspiration to focus later in his artistic career on painting representations of people in their everyday life.



Tunisia Live caught up with him recently to gather insight about him and his work.

TL: When did you start painting?

I started painting when I was a child, 3, 4 or 5 years old. I was always getting in trouble with my mother because I would draw on the walls of our house.  I always knew that I would become a painter. They gave the other students in my pre-school paper and crayons but I got a canvas and paints from my teacher.

Boy with Grandfather
From when I was young, I always told my parents I did not want to become a doctor or a lawyer or any other profession but an artist. I studied all the other subjects just to go to the fine arts school.

Practical art is something that is not taught in school in Tunisia. Art history and theory is taught in University but to be a good artist you don’t learn it from school. We focus on hard sciences in Tunisia, art education is really put to the side.

TL: What mediums do you use?BoywithGrandfather1-majed-zalila

I use many different mediums– wires, paints, pastels, collages, oil on canvas but my favorite drawing tool is a simple pen.

TL: What is the inspiration of your paintings?

Growing up in Tunis made me aware of the great diversity of people who come here. When I would get my coffee on Habib Bourguiba street I would always witness an infinity of different people.

The importance of lines in my work comes from a time after graduating from my art school when I did an internship doing Chinese embroidery.

Majed in a live art performance
TL: When was your first personal exhibition and what was that like?

My first exhibition was in Carthage in 2006. People liked my paintings but they did not buy them. Starting out is always difficult, but it was subsequent exhibitions, every year I worked very hard and had personal exhibitions where my work began to get widely received. I started to develop my own personal style and this was very important.

TL: How do you choose the themes that you paint?

I paint characters, people and simple life… the life that we live everyday. I look for satire and caricatures… the irony of life. Modigliani was a source of real inspiration for me. I was never attracted to cubism or classic impressionism. I developed my own style and developed my own path through my paintings. I want to paint beyond a simple picture but paint a message and express deep feelings. It is more important to be deep than to just be beautiful.

Tunisian society is very complex and I try to put some of the bad behaviors of the normal people into my work. To show the reality of daily life, I am very critical of society. I make representations of alcoholism, prostitution, corruption and nude people. I also show everyday feelings and emotions in life, music, soccer and people walking around. I have never traveled outside of Tunisia although I am working on a proposition of doing an exposition in Lyon, France. I do some paintings of foreign people but most of my inspiration comes from being in Tunis.
TL: How do you go about picking the colors you want to use?

When I decide to paint with one color, I choose the other colors that go with the previous color one after the other. I love colors of life: red, yellow, green and I paint with a contrast of colors and intensity… I look for a shocking contrast of colors. I also look for a contrast between colors and lines and the shocking contrast between the lines and colors I pick. You feel the speed of the execution. My lines are like a signature. But I also have done a series of black and white drawings.
TL: What is the difference between doing art before and doing art after the revolution?

After the revolution I am more free to work on what I want to work on.

Before the revolution I did characters and focused on soft themes. My work on more serious subjects I kept in my house and showed them only to friends. I did not make them public.

It was impossible to talk about politicians even in the general sense. It was very frustrating to be an artist during Tunisia’s old regime because information was controlled. I did some interviews for TV and what I said was censored. I could not talk about the bad behavior or bad habits of people, when I talked about such subjects those parts of my interviews were cut out from what was broadcast.

I had a message to give and the media at the time would not allow me to give my message.OldmenwithChachia-majed-zalila

According to the old regime Tunisia was a paradise, a perfect land with no prostitution, no robbery, no alcoholism… Ben Ali was our god. He was Krishna. The Tunisian people were all prophets, a land of 10 million prophets was what the old regime wanted it’s people and the world to believe. People now enjoy their freedom so much that they enjoy it in a strange way that makes them do weird things.

TL: What will be your next exhibition?

My next big exhibition will be in November or December at the Gallery of Sadika Keskes in Gammarth. It is the place I am able to sell the most paintings. I will for the first time display wire sculptures with my drawings and paintings. I will take my art and turn it into 3D art.

Kouichi Shirayanagi | 01 April 2012 

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