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Tunisia's first contemporary art fair opens


Women in watermark, calligraphic portraits, ceramics with almost lively folds: dozens of Tunisian artists exhibit until Sunday in the heart of Tunis works usually confined to galleries, first attempt to open the market of contemporary art in Tunisia.

“A place like this in Tunisia did not exist,” Sabrine Chaouch, a visual artist exhibiting at the first Journées de l’art contemporain de Carthage (JACC), told AFP.

“Having worked for years, and finally getting there, is (…) really a very nice satisfaction,” adds the young artist, very moved to have found a potential buyer for one of her shimmering canvases on the first evening, and to have received several exhibition proposals.

A place like this in Tunisia did not exist

“Maybe it’s an opening to the international, you can be seen by other galleries, people from abroad,” she hopes.

About a hundred artists and 17 galleries, half of them Tunisian and half from other countries in the region, including Libya, exhibited nearly 200 works during these three Days of Contemporary Art, under the dome of the brand new Cité de la Culture.

Large-format paintings in often vivid colours, bare sculptures, installations or photographs question tradition, the place of women or the notion of freedom, in a country where economic transition is struggling to follow the democratic transition, seven years after a revolution that led to the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship.

“Until then, contemporary art lacks everything, we don’t have a museum and the market remains limited,” explained Thursday Khaled Ben Slimane, a Tunisian ceramist who regularly exhibits abroad. “This event reflects a good overview of creation in Tunisia, it is a first step to bring in a wider audience”.

“We’ve been waiting for this for years, it’s a first step, it’s still to be announced,” added gallery owner Synda Ben Khelil Bouchrara.

The Journées de l’art contemporain, accompanied by conferences on the art market, were preceded by regional events during the summer, aimed at identifying, promoting and accompanying artists across the country.

“We have every chance” that this fair will gain “international recognition”, the Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs, Mohamed Zine El Abidine, told AFP at the inauguration, wishing that “the contemporary art market could benefit artists”, and that the meeting, which will become an annual event, would be “a catalyst to do better”.

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