Traditional and contemporary arts
Tunisia’s traditional ceramics, mosaics, carpets, and other handicrafts reflect the country’s long and rich artistic history. All of Tunisia’s traditional arts are handmade. Some handicrafts reflect Islamic motifs, while others incorporate Roman or Ottoman Turkish elements. There is also a distinctive Berber art, which is reflected in aspects of the country’s architecture and handicrafts. During the Muslim dynasties, calligraphy was widespread, primarily because it was forbidden at that time to depict the human form.
In 1949 several artists founded the School of Tunis, which included not only Tunisian Muslims, but also French, other Christians, and Jews. Its aim was to foster the artistic expression of native themes. The School of Tunis dismissed the kind of art employed in Orientalist colonial painting. With Tunisia’s independence, in 1956, artists were strongly influenced by themes such as identity and nationhood.
The 2011 revolution launched another wave of artistic expression, which deals with the years of dictatorship and touches once again on issues such as Tunisia’s national identity. Grafitti and posters are amongst the most frequent expressions of contemporary arts. An art exhibition in June 2012 in La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis, reflected differing – and sometimes opposing – dynamics in contemporary Tunisian society, with people searching for the country’s identity, which appears rent between modernity and Muslim religion. Some artists who exhibited there protested with their work the increasing influence of Islam in society following Tunisia’s revolution. This led religiously conservative Muslims to storm the arts exhibition, which they considered blasphemous; several pieces of art were destroyed.
Tunisian grafitti after the revolution