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Vassar College

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa


Art and revolution have always commingled. Often, periods of social upheaval are also periods of profound artistic experimentation. For example, the Bolshevik revolution encouraged constructivism and the daring new forms of the Russian avante-garde. Additionally, art is often used as a mechanism to incite people into action. The Cuban revolution, Chinese revolution, and Russian revolution all created unique and highly influential political propaganda.

During the Arab Spring, the series of mass protests and government-overthrows that erupted in early 2011 across North Africa and the Middle East, little was reported in the media of the cultural changes that existed. These countries were all ruled by authoritarian regimes that strictly controlled all aspects of society, including art. Tunisia was both the first country in the region to erupt into revolution and also had the shortest-lived revolution. Shortly after January 14th, the day president Ben Ali was forced out of office, the country resumed a semblance of normality. Thus, it is not surprising that one of the first articles about the art of the revolutions to make it on to the interent was from Tunisia.

On March 26th, Al Jazeera English published an article “Art challenges Tunisian revolutionaries.”[1] The article described the work of JR, a French artist, who was posting large black and white photographs of average Tunisians over the old images of Ben Ali. However, the article failed to describe anything that was created by Tunisians. In fact, nothing had appeared anywhere on the internet describing art work done by Tunisian revolutionaries. It began to seem like the Tunisian revolution was one of the few in history that was not followed by an artistic revolution. But then, the moment I arrived in Tunis I noticed that it had simply been ignored. Not only did this art reflect the revolution, but also it was revolutionary itself. One did not even have to pay to access a gallery to see art: the art was in the streets.

[1] Ryan, Yasmine. "Art Challenges Tunisian Revolutionaries - Features - Al Jazeera English." Al Jazeera English. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.


Arts and Humanities | Civic and Community Engagement | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change


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