If the exhibition is entitled “Voices of Memory,” one quickly realizes why: the works of art make up a world, a universe in perpetual conversation with women’s testimonies of past repression.
In partnership with the International Center for Transitional Justice, the University of Birmingham, and Museum Lab, a group of Tunisian women mobilized around the recovery of collective memory as a step towards rehabilitating indirect victims of the dictatorship, and thus promoting an inter-generational dialogue and transfer of knowledge.
“Voices of Memory” is an exhibition dedicated to knowledge, empathy and reflection around human rights. Based on oral testimonies and personal narratives, notably between 1984 and 2010, this interactive exhibition is an artistic representation of the way the repressive regime dehumanized women across Tunisia. With a focus on the experience of imprisonment (real and metaphorical) and the link between past and present, this exhibition seeks to awaken in the visitor a more intimate understanding of multiple perspectives and complex situations.
After more than a year of exchanges, debates and sketches, this exhibition highlights universal themes including the shift towards authoritarianism and the individual and collective responsibility of citizens in the face of these violations. As visitors journey through the exhibition, they are encouraged to examine the individual and collective choices that move us from hate to crimes against humanity, but also from indifference to resistance.
Lassaad Ben Sghaeir, a Tunisian artist, holds a bachelor degree in Plastic arts from the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts de Tunis. In 2010, he chose to deepen his knowledge and practice in the area of design and marble sculpture, pursuing the first training in this subject in Tunisia. He has taken part in various group exhibitions, including the annual exhibition of the Tunisian Union of Plastic artists (awarded the 2009 1 st place for young plastic artists), the “Spring of Plastic Arts” exhibition at Abdellia Palace, La Marsa City (2009 and 2011), the three collective exhibitions at the National Library of Tunsia, “Centennial anniversary of El Messaadi” (2001), “Faces, identity, cultures” (2012) and “Art and violence” (2016), the Talan exhibition /// Ajel (Urgent), Real Time 2016.
Meaning 1: Bringing to light a situation
Meaning 2: Chemical bath where the x-ray is soaked to enable the invisible picture to appear
The installation Reveletor appears as a closed structure that reminds of both an isolation cell and a black box. On the face of the structure, slots are cut out allowing the viewer to see the inside. The holes reveal photographs of several items linked to prison, and more specifically with the imagery of the baskets prepared by the relatives for their incarcerated loved ones.
The installation establishes ties between incarceration conditions and the photographic process. Space itself is paramount: confined, dark and solitary. The sorting of photos may hint to the baskets being searched by the guards. Finally, waiting for the photos that gradually reveal themselves, evokes moments spent by the inmates eagerly waiting to unveil the content of their baskets.
A graduate of interior architecture in 2006 and English in 2008 (Dublin School of English), Walid Ardhaoui first exhibited his works in 1994. Established in Tunisia since 2014, he has taken part in many artistic events including “Al Maken” in Sidi Bou Said, and a group show at EL Teatro. In the meantime, he has been working and exhibiting in Dublin, Dubai and Abha (Saudi Arabia). His first solo exhibition “Al Mahjouz” at EL Teatro in April 2016, features realistic figures bathed in a consumerist day-to-day life painted in oil on recovered wood, and cement. In 2017, he participated with a personal exhibition “Barzakh”, isthmus, at the Aicha Gorgi gallery, as part of Evènement Jaou 2017, organized by the Lazaar Foundation on the theme “The Migrant Nation”. Through his paintings, he traces the sad journey of some young people, whose dreams begin with a smile and a bright future, ending up in disappointment and bitterness.
When seriousness is mistaken for laugh, a victim may turn into a rough criminal
whoever turned the bodies free, reasoned minds but shackled the soul of you and me
once a prisoner, but now her jailer, so many start big but end up frailer.
–Poem by Mnaouer Smadeh (translation)
Abdesslem Ayed is a visual artist who lives and works in Gabes and Tunis. He graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts of Tunis with a Masters degree in plastic arts, specializing in sculpture. He works as a restorer of ancient sculptures at the Bardo National Museum. Since 2008, he has participated in group exhibitions in Tunisia and abroad. He was awarded a prize in 2010 for his work at the Printemps des Arts at la Marsa. He has recently participated in the 13th Biennial of Dakar (Senegal).
Security locks and checkpoints are becoming increasingly visible in contemporary societies; in railway stations, airports, shopping centers, customs areas, and especially in prisons.
In the correctional world, there is a strict control of the objects that can reach the prisoners, with well-defined prohibitions and restrictions. Prisoners are compelled to undergo searches that add to the condition of confinement, with the outside world being delivered to them in a conditioned, restrictive form, and subjected to the sorting machine.
‘Scanner’ is an installation that scrutinizes the status of objects in our control-based societies, and more particularly in prisons, which bring to their paroxysm modern aspects of ordinary civil life, that of citizens who move “freely”.
The Scanner device consists of a series of movable aluminum frames in which X-rays of prohibited objects are displayed, a mechanism that allows the viewer to scroll X-ray films by interacting with a crank, up to the part illuminated by a neon light, thus showing the x-rayed objects just in front of the viewer. The dominant color of the device will be the color blue, a dark blue, but transparent under the neon lights. This color, which evokes the dream and the marine space is paradoxically shown in a mechanical and closed environment. ‘Scanner’ represents this contradiction between the open and the enclosed, the clear and the dark, between the one who controls and that which is controlled.
Najah Zarbout hails from Kerkennah. She lives and works in Sousse and Paris. With a Ph.D in Arts and Science of Art, Sorbonne, Najah is interested in topics related to the current issues faced by individuals in contemporary society. Questions about the other and the ties that may be created with the other are mentioned and treated particularly in her art. Behind the artist’s playful works, daring and profound subjects are hiding. Her works take various forms, ranging from drawing to video, including photography and installation. Zarbout has participated in group exhibitions in France and abroad. She was awarded the plastic art prize of the “Ici et demain 2008” festival.
From Hand To Hand
The “koffa” is for the prisoner and his family a challenge to separation. Prepared with affection, it is loaded with unwritten messages: the dishes sent are not a simple set of nutrients but a specific alchemy to best convey feelings and thoughts.
It turns out that at the checkpoint of the prison entrance, the intruder in this ritual, the jailer, will mock and disfigure with his hands this “offering”, indulging in aggressive gestures and unpleasant ways. In search of a possible confined message, and out of fear of a hidden object, the food will be cut, and crushed between the fingers of the guardian; and it is there, in this game of hands, that one transits from love to negligence, from envy to disgust, from respect to contempt, from hope to despair…
Born in Kef in 1991, Salma Wahida has been passionate about sewing, embroidery and weaving since childhood, thanks to her mother. Currently undergoing training at the Sectoral Training Center for Clothing in Tunis, the learning process allows her to develop these skills while pursuing her research around language of textile, where the needle generates an act of reflection and the thread becomes like a second skin.
The threads of Time - Textile Installation - Tulle Embroidery 200x150 cm
The searches, the corridors, the gloomy walls of the prisons where they are piled up like old rags make them lose their dynamism, remaining fixed but still. They stand facing the barbed wire, with their bodies showing very little. With no dignity, but still fighting and holding on.
Each node, each thread is nothing more than a set of constraints and obstacles that they have overcome, thus creating the human being that they are.
A symbol of eternal revolt, these women are up against all odds, get lost but manage to find themselves again, incomplete but always ready to launch a new challenge, tired but are happy to be a threat to all those who hide in a bigger prison far from them. No barrier stops them, but what about the cowards who think they are free, locked in the abyss of their fear?
Between The Lines - Embroidered clothing
Clothes are traditionally signs of identification and allow concealing and showing, veiling and unveiling; a second skin that personifies the one who wears it. If the text of the embroidery is the subject, the garment becomes a means to communicate with the outside, but it is also an instrument of resistance, transgressive to the oppression of the regime.
Born in 1987 in Lille to a Tunisian father and a Moroccan mother, Wiame Haddad currently works between Paris, Tunis and Casablanca. After obtaining her national diploma of plastic expression at the Higher School of Art and Design of Valenciennes, and after an Erasmus at the National School of Visual Arts in La Cambre in Brussels, she focuses her work, her reflections and her photographic practice around the question of the Body between the West and North Africa. To do so, she is inspired by everything that highlights the way the body expresses a situation of confinement, internal conflict, or conflict triggered by a historical or social context, thus focusing on the body as a political signifier.
The Crack of Epiderm in the Invisible Realm
In Absentia (Atlas Lethé) is a narrative taking as a starting point a supposed absence of visual archives of the post-independence years of militancy and political repression in Morocco and Tunisia, to go towards a proposal of possible “iconology” of this story.
First, there is the idea, vague and unreal, that runs through my mind. The incongruous, almost shameless, but joyous possibility of being able to re-create a body, a piece of this body, damaged, invisible, forgotten by history, giving back to it a substance, a form, an existence. Then you have to understand the material; one that by a precise and chemical dosage comes first to cover the arm, the foot or the bust of my subject. In the mold, layers come in succession, and so does time. Mixtures drying and manipulations finally show only a fine and delicate white and powdery surface; fidelity almost complete. “Quasi” because there are of course accidents in this attempt to master the technique, the same ones that give the final piece this precious imperfection.
History is immense and I am interested here in the smallest detail, the gesture, the desire to study a fragment of political body. It is not history that made this body a political body, it is you, it is me, it is our preconceived and unconscious projections that build it and define it in simplified perspectives. The photographs are a translation of this body through the fragment. By moving it, isolating it, cutting it out, they try to rebuild it. In what order should these fragments be presented? I wonder! The color, the shape, the size, the person and her history, chronology, musicality, depth. I choose disorder.
Born in 1972 in Jendouba, Nabil Saouabi graduated in 2002 with a Master’s degree in Visual Arts and a PhD in Science and Technical Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts in Tunis in 2013 where he currently teaches drawing. Since his first successful solo exhibition, he has participated in numerous exhibitions in Tunisia and abroad, including biennials such as Dak’art, Beijing and the 5th International Printing Biennial of Ile de France. His works are part of prestigious private collections in Tunisia, France, Germany and the Middle East, as well as public collections such as the Ministry of Culture in Tunisia.
"Prison is a liar and who is alive goes away"
This work is framed by two juxtaposed screens that alternate testimonies and scenes of everyday life in a poetic documentary approach.
The double-screen video installation creates a complex space-time dimension and multiplies the narrative possibilities through editing processes like slow motion, repetition, the superposition which work like a field of resonance, cohabitation, fusion and superimposition of multiple facets and strata of the real (the words of the witnesses) which gradually reveal a failed and painful life.
Words and Reminiscence
Testimonies take a poetic and political substance that plays out through the narrative. On the one hand, the emotional and human dimension gradually emerges through the strata of words, in its daily struggle of pain, distress, and injustice endured. On the other hand, through the succession of images imbued with the real, the daily life leaves behind an atmosphere of continuity, determination and hope.
Memory and resistance or poetics of absence
What is absent (the prisoner, the body of suffering) resumes its place by the reminiscence of memory in support for torture but also as a process of catharsis and resistance. It is about rendering the invisible visible. Memory becomes meaningful and momentous if it is kept alive as a matrix to build the future and be reconciled with the past.
Born on December 21, 1983 in Tunis, Wissam Ziadi is a violinist, composer, and performer. Currently, he is pursuing a doctoral thesis in sound signal processing on the analysis and detection of voice in an audio stream at the National School of Engineers of Tunis. He is among the members of several underground formations of the Tunisian alternative scene. This sound archive was realized in cooperation with Nebil ben Rajeb and Dhiya dine Lemjid.
Listen, the sound of memory is everywhere around you.
‘The Sound of Memory’ is an intergenerational artistic and cultural creation prepared for the “Voices of Memory” exhibition. Through the testimonies and stories of the women from the Voices of Memory group, this audio archive invites you to visit a piece of Tunisian history. It is addressed to all prisoners of conscience; as far as they can remember, they will hear a melody, a voice, a language they will recognize.