Tunisia: Turbulences

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Tunisia

Like everyone else, I know Luciano Benetton, the Italian industrialist, creator of the logo ‘United Colors of Benetton’, the first to celebrate the marriage between art and fashion, to introduce the major themes of racism, exclusion, fraternity and sharing in the context of advertising thanks to a very talented photographer. Art enhances the banality of everyday life and causes reflections and dialogues, which are sometimes bitter, among the inhabitants of the planet.

Faiza Ben Hadj Yahia - Untitled (2014)

The philosophy of Imago Mundi is the inevitable consequence of this same passion, the desire to make all the artists of this world known to everybody offering everyone the same opportunities, the same support and the same space and above all canvases of the same size. Ten centimeters by twelve, a reduced format, which obliges the artists, famous or not, to adapt to the same constraints, to focus on the same space and express themselves while staying within the same measurements imposed for all.

Nja Mahdaoui - Untitled (2014)

Michela Margherita Sarti - Manipolazione I (2013)

Ten by twelve is an unusual format and as uncertain as the Tunisia of today. It is neither a country entirely in revolt nor entirely peaceful, neither completely secular nor wholly Islamic, neither entirely feminist nor completely chauvinist. How can one ask more than two hundred artists of all ages, from the oldest to the youngest, to put on canvas, wood, glass or iron, their hopes and their despair, their anxieties, their courage, their joys and their tears, their dreams and their nightmares, essentially all of these ‘intimate turbulences’ on an area of just ten centimeters by twelve?

Thouraya Hamouda - Butterfly Effect (2013)


Omar Bey - Untitled (2014)


Leaving Luciano Benetton’s magnificent palace in Ponzano, Italy, I said to myself that the artists would never be able to realize this project. The Tunisian revolution had just turned three years old and artists had many things to say, to write, to draw. Locking them in a format that was so small was to imprison them, limit them, depriving them of the greatness and power of this political, social and cultural revolution that they had just experienced, which had disrupted their vision and freed their artistic expression thanks to the assuagement of censorship.

Zouhour Gargouri - Untitled (2014)

Slim Med Drissi - Untitled (2014)

Over two hundred artists agreed to participate in this project and none of them felt limited by this format. They found, on the contrary, that the small size forced them to concentrate, to go to the essentials, to play between the recreational and the dramatic, between poetry and caricature, to resize the subjects and think of the harmony of colors. They also spilled over the back of the canvas where they poured a little more of their talent. Some of them, seduced by the format, have created several works and have imagined forms through which to expose them, others have proposed to repeat the experience in the future. No one complained. Rather, the opposite.

Hosni Hertelli (Shoof) - Untitled (2013)

Nebras Charfi - The Flayed (2013)

If I called my preface of this exhibition, ‘Turbulences’, it is because today we are in a period of political and social transition in which artists have responded freely with their moods and their works do not have particular similarities or ties with each other, except perhaps a feeling, a whiff of concern about the future of Tunisia. The artists sense that the future looks uncertain and mysterious, but do not let themselves go to despair, and have emphasized
the aspect of humor, black humor, fierce against themselves and against the politicians who govern us. One positive outburst that results in often hilarious works that sometimes get to being absurd. The practice of the small size is not alien to the Islamic-Muslim culture: sublime Persian miniatures in the sumptuously decorated pages of the sacred books, compositions of semi-precious stones to form flowers and leaves on the huge domes of mosques. The small and medium sizes have always existed. This style appeared quite natural to Tunisian artists and, surprisingly, they found pleasure in trying to renew their artistic past.

Hamadi Ben Saad - Travels I / Travels II (2013)


Mehdi Bouanani (Dabro) - Lamine Bey (2013)

But there’s more: this popular revolution with the change of political regime and the adoption of a new constitution in Tunisia have introduced a new world in which they quickly imposed freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The artists of all persuasions appropriated this so desired space, and soon creativity and imagination exploded in dozens of exhibitions. The graffiti
artists, who had been prevented from expressing themselves, painted on the walls, on bridges, on abandoned houses from the old regime; rappers have occupied theaters; caricaturists were unleashed against the faces of the new politicians. Tunisia lived the euphoria of freedom. The small size of Luciano Benetton has become an aspect of the freedom of artistic creation within which everything was allowed.

Khaoula Dridi - Untitled (2013)

Semia Achour - Caterpillar (2013)

It is not the first time in history that the Tunisian artists are conquering freedoms thanks to the events. In the Muslim tradition any depiction of the human is prohibited and in a hadith (TN: The hadith is an anecdote or story about the life of Muhammad) of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, it is said that Islam does not tolerate the reproduction of the human figure. At the end of the 19th century, Tunisia was freed from this prohibition and the Tunisian artists began to draw human faces and landscapes and their canvases have experienced some success both in Tunisia and abroad. From the middle of the 20th century on, our artists have exhibited at the Venice Biennale, in the USA and in Paris, which explains the large number of talented artists in a country that is among the smallest in Africa.

Almani - Untitled (2014)

Mohamed Akacha - Untitled (2013)

Marie Jo Armando - Untitled (2014)

To be part of the collection of ‘Imago Mundi’ by Luciano Benetton in the same way the USA, Japan, Australia or India, represents a tribute to Tunisia and to the richness of its art scene. Being present in several exhibitions, in which these collections will be shown to the public and certainly appreciated, is a unique opportunity for the majority of the more than
two hundred invited artists.

Hafedh Khediri (Sk-One) - Just Writing My Name (2013)

Yosri Bahrini - Blow Up (2013)


The catalog that will accompany this event will be at the same time, a reference book and a photograph of an artistic moment that coincides with a historical transformation of Tunisian society and the creative renewal of its artists.

Kmar Garbaa Ben Abdallah - Untitled (2013)

Credits: Story

Curation
Leila Souissi

Curatorial assistant
Michela Sarti
Bernard Royet

Organization
Valentina Granzotto
Alain Manini

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Texts
Luciano Benetton
Leila Souissi
Aïcha Filali

Editing and translation
Carlo Antonio Biscotto
Emma Cole
Pietro Valdatta

Special Thanks to (Galleries)
Samia Achour EFESTO A / GORGI HOPE Contemporary Mille Feuilles
Printing Lab
Hichem Driss - Studio Barguellil (Tunisia)

Art direction
Namyoung An

Photography
Marco Pavan
Marco Zanin

Production
Marco Pavan

Cover
Moëz Akkari - trombone (Tunisia)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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