by Amel Ben Attia
Patria Delenda Est, by Amel Ben Attia
”Already the salt in the hands of the gravediggers. The dregs, no longer the aroma, of the sea, which is spread over the conquered city. Everyone forgets the first salt he tasted: now he tampers with this essence. The world – and even today we see many Carthage violated – feeds this flame in him to conquer, to kill. The docile sea is his accomplice. People come; they will be given their share of salt on the plowing of the wounds. Free at last, they lament over the ash. The salt forever mingled with the blood of the victims and with the wounded stones which were the work of man”
Edouard Glissant – Le Sel Noir
Patria Delenda Est is the reflection of the poem, the testament of civilizations subjected to the will of the powerful.
From Carthage to Phenicia, their similar stories are repeated each time falling into the tortuous meanders of wars and reconstructions. In this sound and visual symphony, Past and Present merge thanks to an imaginary bridge revealing History in its perpetual loop. Thus our gaze sets down on a genetic nostalgia filled with destruction.
Patria Delenda Est invites itself to Bhar Lazreg, a rough neighbourhood in the northern suburbs of Tunis which is home to a large sub-Saharan community. Designed like a circuit, this 1st edition of TuniSphëre is anchored in this district in a spirit of proximity in order to rally the local community to contemporary art.
Pushed in their limits, artists from the region, linked by a common history, sublimate through their different practices this Aeschylean tragedy in its strength and violence.
As a prelude, a symphony resonates in a wasteland bejewelled with trash. The Carthage Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hafedh Makni and in an unusual collaboration the poet Zoufree, , opens the ball with "the fate of kings", a poetry transposed into tessitura like a complaint of time and space.
Not far away, another visual symphony begins in the artists' studios.
Opposite the neighbourhood carpentry workshop, the first picture rails of Pascal Hachem, an inscription on rolling pins intrigues: “When it comes to destruction, we have the know-how”. Through a sarcastic vision, "starred chef" exposes an undeniable truth: the ability to subjugate power on man and man onto himself.
Pascal Hachem relentlessly criticizes the relationships of social domination, pushing the thought on the human condition to its limit. He draws from Ancient Greece, mother of civilizations, and unearths the myth of Sisyphus in his eternal damnation.
Through embroidery and drawing on parchments and embroidery drums, in "One's goal" and "Viscous circle" the artist highlights servility and submission through scenes of ancient games, materializing Camus' thought on the cycle of the absurd. In the works of Pascal Hachem, you will have to imagine Sisyphus happy...
He raises awareness for the need to rebel in the face of the absurd by awarding medals to the artist for his laziness and to power for his devastating skills in "The players". He finally invents a readymade of destruction entitled "The complete manuals" which cancels all the exposed elaborate designs.
In another chronicle, he reveals the condition of the Arab woman, vestal of modern times: they are Latifa, Souad, Ferjania, Myriam and Mercedes in "Fragile wall" , twelve hands. Tunisian and Lebanese, they embroider their tragedies in the unveiled veil of the screen, sublimating their memories through the delicacy of the gesture.
And now Larissa Sansour answers Pascal’s works, with her video installation. Intimate in her artistic practice with the Palestinian situation, Sansour uses films in a fictional and futuristic way to reveal a geopolitics charged with tensions, conflicts and dramas.
In "In the future, they ate in finest porcelain", she invents a resistance group belonging to a civilization whose purpose is to influence history and claim their fragile lands in the future hope of reconquering it. Thanks to this strong symbolism, the artist tells us about the sovereignty of a Palestine forever lost.
The journey continues, between fields of plastic bags and thatched cottages, and imaginary merges with reality. A rundown landscape until the entrance to another site where a story of water and land is played out.
In his immersive video installation "Of Men, Gods and Mud", Ali Cherri, who explores time shifts between ancient worlds and contemporary societies, tells the story of a village in Sudan where a dam forced all the brick artisans into 'exile. All but one, who resisted the exodus. From mud to brick, he perpetuates his favourite profession. In the evening, he invents mystical creatures like a prehistoric man, sublimating his death in his cave paintings.
Through the story of this Prometheus, who calls for resistance to ensure sustainability, Cherri, in an imaginary deluge, invokes the myths by rallying them to existence.
On the left, in the alley, opposite a public dump, the trail leads to another site where regeneration converses with revolt.
Wesam Al Asali's work reveals the rehabilitation of ancient artisanal food preservation techniques in a devastated Syria. In his practice, Al Asali explores the role of culture and society in rethinking cities in the context of wars and climate change. In "Urgent Sustenance" and in the footsteps of the first sedentary resident of Çatal Höyük who designed his habitat around his food, the artist reveals the ingenious combinations between present and past when identity mimicry becomes a necessity for subsistence.
To answer this act of resistance, M'barek Bouhchichi, through his conceptual materialism, manifests an absolute conviction in the redemptive potential of matter, and invites us to feel the delicacy of the words in his work "Poetry must not perish. Because then, where would be the hope of the world" Leopold Sedar Senghor. Bouhchichi materializes the politically charged Tunisian poem that he inscribes with flints on tribulums, an ancestral tool of agriculture. By symbiotically linking poetry to poïetics, he unearths a denied intangible heritage.
Faced with rebellion, Thameur Mejri identifies parallels in the paradoxes of the human being - violence, innocence, guilt, shame - and replaces his palette of bright colours with black and white. In this Manichaeism, he transforms his painting into organized chaos. Between fear and anguish, he paints while screaming noiselessly. Iconic symbols of Tunisia and futile everyday objects are drawn in the turmoil of an uncertain future.
The song of Mohamed Iguerbouchène comes next, in the video by Zineb Sedira which highlights the deterioration of the heritage of her country by taking the Algerian film industry of the 1960s and its rise as a base for her research. In her practice, Sedira first draws from her own identity as a woman in a singular personal geography. In "Mise en scène 2019" she creates a collage with deteriorated reels that she found during her research on the Algerian cinematographic heritage, and where we see extracts of Algerian political action and other old sequences difficult to decipher. This rescue attempt that Zineb Sedira undertakes reveals the consequences of the deterioration of the political and economic situation in Algeria, like the state of the archives.
Further on, in Malek Gnaoui's studio, the so-called clandestine emigration is exposed. Gnaoui draws on the socio-cultural issues of Tunisia to reveal a violent and bitter reality. In a first work, he reappropriates the Tunisian flag through a patchwork of emigrants' clothes and raises the existential question of the meaning of life. In a second work, he invites expelled people to remember their journeys at sea by tracing imaginary paths on the sand: these Ulysses tell the Odyssey of despair, which the artist immortalizes in lead. Finally in his latest installation, a security gatehouse where we take a peek at an aquatic environment through a porthole, the artist stages a shipwreck that we can guess through personal objects that deliver an abyss of the desperate youth.
Alongside Malek Gnaoui, Nidhal Chamekh takes over with an installation that deals with exile. In his practice, he dissects contemporary identity in its violence and trauma based on history, socio-politics and his own experience. In the work "France, you mistreated me", the artist offers neon writing in the colours of the French flag which sings of the exile through a lyric of a popular Tunisian song, in three words فرنسا شومتي حالي and disillusion marries nostalgia for the country…
Patris Delenda Est ends with a minimalist performance as a curatorial signature. “Song of a Brutal Land 5/5” is five players against five others in an endless football game. In Bhar Lazreg, sub-Saharan migrants from the neighbourhood try throughout the performance to score goals on goals closed by fences. Through this staging, I want to start the debate around Tunisia’s belonging to Africa and around the South-South migration issues by highlighting racism, a problem that has recently reappeared through the sudden expulsion sub-Saharan migrants.
Patria Delenda Est, complaint of tortured geographies and lands in salt, resonates with the fight that everyone must fight to hope for another dance with beauty. This beauty full of the understanding of the Whole World and of oneself, in the face of the pain and the absurdity of the submissions that mark the history of everyone.