Culture

Paris : A place for tunisian culture?

Article published on June 25, 2014
Article published on June 25, 2014

Tunisian culture is underrepresented in Paris, but some initiatives are trying to develop a post-revolutionary artistic scene. Who are these artists and what are their resources?

Where does Tunisian cul­ture find a place in France? In any case, it’s not as vis­i­ble in Paris as one could hope, con­sid­er­ing the large num­ber of Tunisian im­mi­grants who live in the cap­i­tal. After five days of search­ing, we found only one young tal­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Tunisian cul­tural scene. Akram Be­laid likes to in­tro­duce him­self as a 'cul­tural ag­i­ta­tor'. A trained pho­tog­ra­pher and artist, he has been liv­ing in Paris for less than two years. Cur­rently, he is the di­rec­tor for cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties at Tunisia House. Glanc­ing through the cul­tural events pro­posed by the foun­da­tion, it is clear that it in­vests a great deal of ef­fort in de­vel­op­ing Tunisian cul­ture in Paris. Most of their events are usu­ally tar­geted to­wards Tunisians and Arabs liv­ing in France. This is a pub­lic thirsty for every­thing tra­di­tional, con­trary to the more in­ter­na­tional crowd at the uni­ver­sity res­i­dence where Tunisia House is sit­u­ated, who are more in­ter­ested in dis­cov­ery. 

Ef­fort with Few re­sources

Tunisia House is one of the 39 houses of the In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity Res­i­dence of Paris, lo­cated in the 14th ar­rondisse­ment at Jour­dan Boule­vard. It was built in 1948 by the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion branch of the Tunisian gov­ern­ment. It’s a French es­tab­lish­ment reg­u­lated under French law, not only uni­ver­sity ac­co­mo­da­tion.

I admit that at first I didn’t find Tunisia House, until I saw the Tunisian flag and the tags dec­o­rat­ing the façades of the build­ing. The work is by an artist named El Seed, who cre­ates im­pres­sive cal­lig­ra­phy mu­rals in­spired from po­etic verses. The foun­da­tion is man­aged by a small team of four peo­ple: the Di­rec­tor, Vice Di­rec­tor, Ac­coun­tant and Cul­tural Co­or­di­na­tor. It hosts 200 Tunisian stu­dents and re­searchers. It is fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent and doesn’t rely much on sub­si­dies from the Tunisian gov­ern­ment. It is try­ing to be­come less and less de­pen­dent, even if the house main­tains ties with the Tunisian Em­bassy (the Am­bas­sador is the Hon­orary Pres­i­dent of the or­gan­i­sa­tion). 

Under the di­rec­tion of Akram Be­laid, Tunisia House or­gan­ises two to four cul­tural events per month and one or two flag­ship events per year. How­ever, there isn’t much of an of­fi­cial pres­ence of Tunisian cul­ture in Paris. Akram con­firms that or­g

an­is­ing events or shows al­ways  begin as "in­di­vid­ual ini­tia­tives".

Meriam Azizi, uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, lutenist, singer and film di­rec­tor, agrees with Akram. She notes that the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Tunisian cul­ture is mar­gin­alised and rarely con­sid­ered. Meriam has been liv­ing in Paris since 2004 and is con­cerned about the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by young Tunisian artists in Paris and their con­stant bat­tle to prove them­selves. How­ever, Akram ex­plains: “as soon as you have proven your­self, you are re­warded.” As soon as I ask Meriam and Akram why they pre­fer to be artists in Paris than in Tunisia, both agreed that in spite of some chal­lenges, con­di­tions in France are much bet­ter. In Tunisia, tal­ent, po­ten­tial and cre­ativ­ity exist, but there is a lack of re­sources and train­ing. 

mil­i­tant Ar­tists: keep­ing an eye on tunisia

Liv­ing in Paris doesn’t mean being cut off from po­lit­i­cal and so­cial events in Tunisia. Tunisians liv­ing in Paris try to re­ver­ber­ate what is hap­pen­ing on the other side of the Mediter­ranean and par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics how they can, given the dis­tance. 

My trip to Paris co­in­cided with a demon­stra­tion, which I at­tended on Sat­ur­day May 17, 2014. It was or­gan­ised by a group of young Tunisians at Place of the Re­pub­lic, in sup­port of Tunisian blog­ger and ac­tivist Azyz Amami who was ar­rested on Mon­day May 12th. Ac­cused of tak­ing drugs by the po­lice, Azyz Amami and his friend, Sabri Ben Mlouka, were vic­tims of a vi­o­lent ar­rest that trig­gered a wave of in­dig­na­tion among the young pro­tes­tors. Stu­dents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Tunisian Pop­u­lar Front, Tunisian rap­pers like Madou MC and Zied Ben Chikh, a tag artist known as ZED, were among the 30 peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in the protest. This gath­er­ing felt like a con­ti­nu­ity of the causes that we ad­vo­cate for in Tunisia, even on the other side of the Mediter­ranean, which warms my heart as a Tunisian ac­tivist.

My trip to Paris co­in­cided with a demon­stra­tion, which I at­tended on Sat­ur­day May 17, 2014. It was or­gan­ised by a group of young Tunisians at Place of the Re­pub­lic, in sup­port of Tunisian blog­ger and ac­tivist Azyz Amami who was ar­rested on Mon­day May 12th. Ac­cused of tak­ing drugs by the po­lice, Azyz Amami and his friend, Sabri Ben Mlouka, were vic­tims of a vi­o­lent ar­rest that trig­gered a wave of in­dig­na­tion among the young pro­tes­tors. Stu­dents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Tunisian Pop­u­lar Front, Tunisian rap­pers like Madou MC and Zied Ben Chikh, a tag artist known as  ZED, were among the 30 peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in the protest. This gath­er­ing felt like a con­ti­nu­ity of the causes that we ad­vo­cate for in Tunisia, even on the other side of the Mediter­ranean, which warms my heart as a Tunisian activist.​My trip to Paris co­in­cided with a demon­stra­tion, which I at­tended on Sat­ur­day May 17, 2014. It was or­gan­ised by a group of young Tunisians at Place of the Re­pub­lic, in sup­port of Tunisian blog­ger and ac­tivist Azyz Amami who was ar­rested on Mon­day May 12th. Ac­cused of tak­ing drugs by the po­lice, Azyz Amami and his friend, Sabri Ben Mlouka, were vic­tims of a vi­o­lent ar­rest that trig­gered a wave of in­dig­na­tion among the young pro­tes­tors. Stu­dents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Tunisian Pop­u­lar Front, Tunisian rap­pers like Madou MC and Zied Ben Chikh, a tag artist known as  ZED, were among the 30 peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in the protest. This gath­er­ing felt like a con­ti­nu­ity of the causes that we ad­vo­cate for in Tunisia, even on the other side of the Mediter­ranean, which warms my heart as a Tunisian ac­tivis

What re­mains of au­then­tic Tunisian cul­ture in Paris are mainly restau­rants, which is a bit sad. Even if there is a lack of re­sources, the artists pos­sess an abun­dance of will and cre­ativ­ity. For ex­am­ple, Akram Be­laid dreams of form­ing a di­as­pora of Tunisian artists and to cre­ate a lobby for artists. These artists only need to be given the nec­es­sary struc­ture and train­ing, to blos­som and suc­ceed at con­vey­ing the image of a cre­ative and post-rev­o­lu­tion­ary Tunisia.

This ar­ti­cle is part of a spe­cial pro­ject founded in paris and car­ried out as part of the eu­romed re­porter pro­ject, ini­ti­ated by cafébabel in part­ner­ship with i-watch, the anna lindh foun­da­tion and search for com­mon ground.