Tunisian Island Becomes Street Art Hub, Raises Questions of Politics in Graffiti.
Whether cave paintings or hieroglyphics, Africans have been painting on walls for centuries. However, the idea of turning open streets into an open outdoor gallery and exhibit is something relatively new to North Africa’s largest island and Tunisia’s most popular tourist destination Djerba.
The initiative, curated by Tunisian-French artist Mehdi Ben Cheikh in collaboration with Paris-based art gallery Galerie Itinerance, is called Djerbahood features works from around 150 artists spanning 30 different countries, including Sweden’s ROA, Alexis Diaz from Puerto Rico, Stinkfish out of Colombia, Brazilian muralist Claudio Ethos, French artist Brusk, Moroccan calligraphist Abdellatif Moustad, and Tunisian street artists eL Seed and The Inkman.
Dealing with issues ranging from history and politics, to spirituality and tradition, Djerbahood, is a collaboration of epic proportions. Whether intentional or not (and I think not), the name calls to mind the racism that exists in the world of street art and graffiti culture that has, in recent years, both omitted and excluded the contributions made by black and brown artists in the popularization of this art form. Were in not for movies like Wild Style and Style Wars, the origins of resistance graffiti might all be forgotten from popular memory.
However, with the growing number of street artists and street art emerging from this area of the world in recent times, it would’ve been more interesting had they featured a selection of artists from around the African continent. Countries like South Africa and Senegal are home to some of the continent’s growing local street art scenes. Due to its size, it somewhat eclipses the grassroots graffiti movements across North Africa made headlines when #ArabSpring was a trending topic, and seemed to fade as quickly as it was noticed by the west. Then again, the politics behind this open art affair, due to unveil September 20th, aren’t rooted in Pan-African sentimentality, being sponsored by parties from France and Tunisia.
This project forms part of a growing trend of foreign street artists descending on Africa, from the likes of French artist JR’s “Women Are Heroes" series that stopped in Sierra Leone, Kenya, Sudan and Liberia, to ROA’s "Wide Open Walls" in The Gambia.
Similarly to the reactions from people in the aforementioned countries, locals in the area have had mixed responses to the art works, from some labeling it as vandalism to others welcoming the diversity and finding inspiration in the larger-than-life paintings.