Essays, Farah Makni Hendaoui, Ibraaz, 28 August 2013
The dramatic turn of events that took place around the 2012 exhibition Printemps des Arts at the Palais Abdelliya in La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis, marked a significant moment in the history of fine art in Tunisia. The exhibition provoked a national debate: protests and threats were directed towards participating artists from religious fundamentalists. The affair was regrettable and scandalous. It presented a certain rupture or divide between Tunisia's artistic community and religious law's continued dominance over local society. Of course, it is easy to criticise the violent response against certain artworks on show in this exhibition that were considered blasphemous, but the events surrounding the exhibition also had the potential to inscribe contemporary art within public debate and to bring to light the work of artists who are often overlooked and recognised only among a small number of amateurs and specialists. Yet, it is surprising that no critical dialogue (aesthetic or anthropological) has taken place in Tunisia around the exhibition itself and the work it contained, though there have been attempts.
Maher Gnaoui, SSDD. Courtesy the artist.
Deconstructing this exhibition/event could have played two meaningful functions. The first is educational. It would have been the occasion to bring art (painting, sculpture, and the more recent techniques of photography, video and digital arts) to the foreground of public awareness by helping them decrypt the fundamentals of contemporary art; for example, by explaining what an installation or a performance is. The second purpose, of a scientific nature, would have allowed for the appreciation of contemporary art in Tunisia and could have led to the questioning of certain issues related to it: the social status of the contemporary artist, the role of public figures in developing the sector, academic training, and even the professional choices of young artists.