Cultural Initiatives in North Africa and the Middle East
The Kamel Lazaar Foundation organized the second forum of Maghreb des Arts on 10 May at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. The theme in question was the future of the arts in contemporary Maghreb. This was a follow up to the questions posed last year about coordination issues, archiving and theoretical research in the visual arts in the Maghreb. Rachida Triki organised this forum by inviting key players and theoricians in the Maghrebi art scene.
A large number of specialists, art historians, archeologists, critics and artists gathered to listen and discuss ideas with the participating panelists of the 4 boards on:
The four panels were packed with information, suggestions and debates. The President of the Foundation; Kamel Lazaar inaugurated the forum with a speech highlighting the exciting boom that the Tunisian art world is currently going through. He mentioned that people should be optimistic about the increasing creativity in all facets of the arts, including, visual arts, cinema, theatre and music. According to him, throughout the course of history and until today, there have been numerous common grounds in arts and culture amongst the different countries in the Maghreb. He encouraged efforts to enable cultural practitioners to work in the best physical and nurturing conditions, i.e. to benefit from financial aid for production and spaces for constructive criticism and research.
During the first panel about sponsorships, Ghita Triki, who runs the Actua Foundation at the Attijariwafa Bank, Pôle art et culture (Morocco), (that houses a large number of Modern and Contemporary works of art,) listed the activities that range from purchasing and conserving modern paintings and contemporary artworks, organizing permanent and temporary exhibitions and funding young artists' projects. The foundation already has 286 projects in its name and multiple partnerships with diverse institutions. Ghida Triki also explained that this system of sponsoring projects has made an important impact on society through cultural promotion.
Oussama Rifahi, executive Director of the Fund for Arab Arts and Culture (AFAC), built on the idea of social impact, emphasizing the importance of defining the role of contemporary art sponsorship for contemporary art production. He went on to compare the main structures around the world; that of the US which does not have a Ministry of Culture to the European model where institutions rely on government backing; he said that the Arab world and the Maghreb are influenced by both models. This could help encourage art and cultural production through both its emerging art market and institutional backing. Mr. Rifahi spoke about the different projects that AFAC had launched to encourage artistic and cultural production within a social network. Wafa Gabsi, a Tunisian Art Critic, emphasized the importance of artists' and curators' residencies to improve local contemporary artistic creation.
The second session focused on structures of Museums and their impact on the art world. Bernadette Dufrenne, a specialist in museum structures and Cultural Communication spoke about the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Author of «Centre Pompidou, 30 ans d'histoire» (centre Pompidou, a 30 year history) explained how the Museum has evolved to offer a virtual experience to a wider public. Abdelkader Dahmani, director of the platform: VEDUTA at the contemporary art biennial of Lyon, took the concept further by talking about a museum that expands to the limits of a city – he explained how he had managed to engage the whole city of Lyon through interactive art and encouraged its citizens to become cultural operators by taking these activities outside of the traditional walls of a museum. In his opinion, the traditional concept of the museum should be abolished to make way for more creative ways to bring art into society. He said that Tunisia should not wait for a national museum to encourage the growth of its cultural sector. This comment raised a lot of criticism, from the public, especially artists who insisted that the country needed official structures such as modern and contemporary art museums to legitimize their work and make it visible to a greater public. They brought up the 12,000 works of art that have been bought by the state and hidden from the public. Farid Zahi, a Morccan art critic, backed up the previous comment and compared it to the problematic structure of Museums in Morocco. He mentioned that the museum in Casablanca lacked openness, he also criticized the lack of art books and magazine that are necessary for the cultural growth of a society.
After a debate on the need for museums of the Maghreb to be more publicly accessible and to allow greater visibility and preservation of works, as well as artistic education, the floor was given to gallerists, the majority of whom were women. Galleries represented included The Blue Violin Gallery, Galerie Gorgi, Selma Feriani Gallery, B'chira Art Centre and Centre d'art vivant du Belvédère. Lina Lazaar who organised the two-day Forum, led the debate by questioning the galleries on the concept of cultural practice and the nature of the art market in Tunisia. There was a consensus about the dynamism of the young Tunisian art scene and that the gallerists try to give visibility to emerging local artists despite the limitations of the market and the very high cost of participating in international contemporary art fairs. Tunisian gallerist Aisha Gorgi of Galerie Gorgi remarked that being a gallery in these circumstances is an exciting but difficult job due to the absence of legal frameworks and the lack of free movement of works. These difficulties are shared by Algerian and Moroccan gallerists. This panel has led to a broad discussion, which has included artists who wish to have more transparent contracts which bind them to galleries. Moreover, they expressed a need for greater state support to help these areas to better promote creative output amongst the youth.
The forum ended with an exciting session on how to promote a contemporary way to create artistic heritage Maghreb, using the example of the mosaic. Nacéra Benseddik, historian of the Ancient Maghreb, epigraphy and archaeology, explained the lack of state interest to conserve Algeria's unique local heritage. Taher Ghalia , art historian and specialist the mosaic of Roman Africa, briefly but clearly outlined the history of mosaic of North Africa. Houcine Tlili, an art historian, stressed the cultural richness of the scenes depicted on the mosaic of the African Rome. Finally, Mehdi Benedetto, a mosaic artist, gave an example of contemporary mosaic design by showing works of mosaic that represent Gustav Klimt's The Kiss.