The Same Moon Above Us. A Tunisian Tale
Listen here to Kaïs Dhifi’s music theme while sliding through the show. It was streamed on 4 July 2021 for Sublime on Rinse France.
Where to land, in Tunisia? We’re usually standing on a rigid Western imaginary, which is being disorientated. It wobbles and we are learning to sway between narratives. This is how this online photography and image exhibition, and the eponymous book, The Same Moon Above Us. A Tunisian Tale, have been designed, opposing a constellation of eight artists: Jawher Ouni, Sana Badri, Salem Jabou, Oumayma B. Tanfous, Kaïs Dhifi, Safouane Ben Slama, Souheila Ghorbel, Nyzar Trabxlsi. We are playing with outlines, definitions and thresholds: The Same Moon Above Us features mainly photography, but not only; it showcases Tunisian artists, but if we’re talking birthplace, base, passport nationality, first language, once again - it does not fit a strict definition.
Yet, all of them work with, or around photography, which ability to represent and circulate makes it a major medium for documenting and bringing people closer. For the same reasons, image (illustration, and in particular photography) was a tool of the imperial narrative and its convoy of exotic clichés – developed up through today under the touristic apparatus. Under French protectorate, postcards and stamps, as travelling images, displayed and spreaded the colonial narrative. But images can also be the tool of its unsealing.
Circulating and bringing closer, two phenomenons which have been weakened by a year-and-a-half-long pandemic. Yet, they loosely connect the eight artists, who live across Tunisia, France, Switzerland, UK and North America and draw the moving map of a country understood here as in excess of its borders. Borders are for real though and, depending on which side you live on, you don’t cross the Mediterranean crack the same way.
If we are not seeking another unique foundation, that’s because none of these stories is meant to introduce or put an end to the others. That’s because our swaying invites us to follow the lanes dug in-between the images. Some pictures ask for reserve and discretion, while others throw us in the middle of things.
Lanes are also mapped out by escape lines, be they the ropes of Bedouin installations, power transmission lines, or wire fences.
They break through the series of walls erected throughout the artists’ work, perhaps the walls which the idle harraga (the border ‘burners’) have spent their youth leaning against.
They crack walls as too is cracking the sand, a cracked egg promising us a future: a desert rose forming.
Lanes are mapped out by the refracted chain of gazes – broken fluxes as in a pool game. To put it in Barthes terms, us-‘spectator’ look at the artist-‘operator’ look at its subject-‘spectrum’. The subjects, whose headscarves and shoulders shield their eyes and histories from our intrusion, push the horizon off-camera, elsewhere. Their gaze flings beyond the desert/sky or the sea/sky joint. It might be following a thought that’s sent to those who are gone, adding a third imaginary ray.
Lanes are mapped out by the inexact juxtaposition of a mountain backdrop with the picture frame, and by the grid pattern of its own folds. Here, we’re told that the backdrop isn’t another back end, but that new proposed plans are set, perhaps ad infinitum, as for two facing mirrors: if the characters are already elsewhere, in London, they suggest new horizons, the elsewhere of an elsewhere - Tunisia, maybe - and they seem to return us the question: what’s our backdrop.
Lanes are mapped out as whirls, by the dancing of human profiles and desert sandstorms, and by the torn paper of a collage, leading from a pole to another and back: here and there, inside and outside, past and future, zenith and nadir, horizontal and vertical, Orient and Occident, movement and stuckness, crack and fold, sun and moon. When the rope is stretched, when extremes push each other back, when the spinning is quick, balance is assured. This is why this exploration has encompassed illustration, to go beyond photography.
Here is a different imaginary, for share. To share is to separate, to dig and accept the gap, hence our proposition of eight singular visions. Yet, to share is to have in common; even if there’s no foundation anymore, and even if the cracks (borders and seas, margins and other in-between layout gaps) threaten to engulf us, at least do we still have the same moon above us.
Exhibition Artists: Sana Badri, Safouane Ben Slama, Oumayma B. Tanfous, Kaïs Dhifi, Souheila Ghorbel, Salem Jabou, Jawher Ouni, Nyzar Trabxlsi
Exhibition Curator: Estelle Marois
The exhibition is supported by the Art Council England and HUB Collective.