art of resistance, Tunisia

Playlist: Ghalia Benali.

/Ghalia Benali, photo © Cidric Saletnik/

I just realized I haven’t written anything about Tunisia in a while, which is a shame. I will make up for it sometime soon. In the meantime, new Playlist edition allows me to share songs by one of the greatest Tunisian singers – Ghalia Benali.

Benali writes songs, sings and dances, and she does it all in the most beautiful way (just listen to her voice, how easy it all seems). She was born in Belgium, grew up in Tunisia and returned to Belgium at age of nineteen to study graphic design.

She regularly visits Tunisia and performs all around the (Arab) world – always with outstanding musicians in her band.

Somebody wrote that Benali is a “microcosmos that merges the Arab musical legacy into something new”. I agree. Enjoy this haunting music.

Previous Playlist:

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

Atab by Cheb Abid

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Algeria, art of resistance, Morocco, Tunisia

The Book To Read: The French Intifada.

Aulnay-sous-Bois-Nov-2005-Photo-by-Leopold-Lambert/Danger Effondrement (Danger Collapse) in Aulnay-sous-Bois (North-Eastern Paris banlieue), photo © Léopold Lambert, 2005/

I was really looking forward to reading Andrew Hussey’s new book The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and its Arabs, and it didn’t dissapoint me, on the contrary – it held up to my expectations.

To fully understand both the social and political pressures wracking contemporary France – and all of Europe – as well as major events from the Arab Spring in the Middle East to the tensions in Mali, Andrew Hussey argues that we have to look beyond the confines of domestic horizons.

As much as unemployment, economic stagnation, and social deprivation exacerbate the ongoing turmoil in the banlieues (the urban hotspots for tension and bouts of rioting), Hussey describes how the root of the problem lies elsewhere: in the continuing fallout from Europe’s colonial era.

In banlieues in Paris, Hussey writes, there is a lot of anger, young men willing to turn themselves into Soldiers for God. The rioters, wreckers, even the killers of the banlieues are looking primarily for justice – their (hi)story has deep wounds all over it.

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Hussey knows his subject well and it is evident in his writing. He identifies the current situation in France today, dissects it like a surgeon. Predominantly white, well maintained, metropolitan cities bordered by run down and poorly funded suburbs (banlieues) housing significant numbers of Arab and North African Muslim migrants.

“For all their modernity, these urban spaces are designed almost like vast prison camps. The banlieue is the most literal representation of otherness – the otherness of exclusion, of the repressed, of the fearful and despised – all kept physically and culturally away from the mainstream of French ‘civilization'”, Hussey writes.

The French Intifada is very readable, full of examples, little stories, interesting references – Hussey easily moves from Zinedine Zidane to Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon.

A large amount of anger and hatred amongst the French “immigrant” population stems from the French history in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Whilst none of the European power’s empires can claim to be truly benevolent, French conduct in all three nations was devastating, particularly in Algeria.

The great portion of the book is dedicated to Algeria and the conduct of the French colons there. That is understandable since Algeria really was (and still is) the country when it comes to French colonialism.

Hussey explains how the development of the ethnically French Pied-Noirs in Algeria over the years has also contributed much antagonism and anger, both among the French and the Algerians themselves.

Hussey does what’s necessary (and so often lacking in media representations and public dicussions) – he goes back through history, he offers context, he tries to understand why and how something happened, and not just what happened.

The French Intifada shows that the defining conflict of the twenty-first century will not be between Islam and the West (the so-called clash of the civilizations) but between two dramatically different experiences of the world – the colonizers and the colonized.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

The Librarian of Basra

A Hand Full Of Stars

Palestinian Walks: Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

Night Draws Near

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art of resistance, Tunisia

Albert Memmi: Thoughts On Colonialism.

Albert Memmi is a French writer of Tunisian-Jewish origin. His great work The Colonizer and the Colonized was published in 1957, and is often compared with Frantz Franon’s The Wretched of the Earth. The following are some of Memmi’s thoughts on colonialism from the book.

e6e63a4665bc38d401b2bfed4da8ef7e (Custom)/Albert Memmi, photo by Claude Dityvon/

“Conquest occurred through violence, and over-expolitation and oppression necessitate continued violence, so the army is present. There would be no contradiction in that, if terror reigned everywhere in the world, but the colonizer enjoys, in the mother country, democratic rights that the colonialist system refuses to the colonized native.

In fact, the colonialist system favors population growth to reduce the cost of labor, and it forbids assimilation of the natives, whose numerical superiority, if they had voting rights, would shatter the system. Colonialism denies human rights to human beings whom it has subdued by violence, and keeps them by force in a state of misery and ignorance that Marx would rightly call a subhuman condition.

Racism is ingrained in actions, institutions, and in the nature of the colonialist methods of production and exchange. Political and social regulations reinforce one another. Since the native is subhuman, the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to him; inversely, since he has no rights, he is abandoned without protection to inhuman forces – brought in with the colonialist praxis, engendered every moment by the colonialist apparatus, and sustained by relations of production that define two sorts of individuals – one for whom privilege and humanity are one, who becomes a human being through exercising his rights; and the other, for whom a denial of rights sanctions misery, chronic hunger, ignorance, or, in general, ‘subhumanity.”

“Madness for destroying the colonized having originated with the needs of the colonizer, it is not surprising that it conforms so well to them, that it seems to confirm and justify the colonizer’s conduct. More surprising, more harmful perhaps, is the echo that it excites in the colonized himself.

Constantly confronted with this image of himself, set forth and imposed on all institutions and in every human contact, how could the colonized help reacting to his portrait? It cannot leave him indifferent and remain a veneer which, like an insult, blows with the wind. He ends up recognizing it as one would a detested nickname which has become a familiar description.

The accusation disturbs him and worries him even more because he admires and fears his powerful accuser. ‘Is he not partially right?’ he mutters. ‘Are we not all a little guilty after all? Lazy, because we have so many idlers? Timid, because we let ourselves be oppressed.’ Willfully created and spread by the colonizer, this mythical and degrading portrait ends up by being accepted and lived with to a certain extent by the colonized. It thus acquires a certain amount of reality and contributes to the true portrait of the colonized.”

“Take terrorism, one example among the methods used in that struggle. We know that leftist tradition condemns terrorism and political assassination. When the colonized uses them, the leftist colonizer becomes unbearably embarrassed. He makes an effort to separate them from the colonized’s voluntary action; to make an epiphenomenon out of his struggle.

They are spontaneous outbursts of masses too long oppressed, or better yet, acts by unstable, untrustworthy elements which the leader of the movement has difficulty in controlling. Even in Europe, very few people admitted that the oppression of the colonized was so great, the disproportion of forces so overwhelming, that they had reached the point, whether morally correct or not, of using violent means voluntarily. The leftist colonizer tried in vain to explain actions which seemed incomprehensible, shocking and politically absurd.

For example, the death of children and persons outside of the struggle, or even of colonized persons who, without being basically opposed, disapproved of some small aspect of the undertaking. At first he was so disconcerted that the best he could do was to deny such actions; for they would fit nowhere in his view of the problem. That it could be the cruelty of oppression which explained the blind fury of the reaction hardly seemed to be an argument to him; he can’t approve acts of the colonized which he condemns in the colonizers because these are exactly why he condemns colonization.

Then, after having suspected the information to be false, he says, as a last resort, that such deeds are errors, that is, they should not belong to the essence of the movement. He bravely asserts that the leaders certainly disapprove of them. A newspaper-man who always supported the cause of the colonized, weary of waiting for censure which was not forthcoming, finally called on certain leaders to take a public stand against the outrages, Of course, received no reply; he did not have the additional naïveté to insist.”

• • •

For more – read The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi.

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art of resistance, Iraq, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

(Interview) Tamara Abdul Hadi: A different Middle East.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is an Iraqi-Canadian photojournalist whose work I’ve been following for a while now. Her projects are strong and on point,  dealing with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes. Through her work one can be constantly reminded how nothing is black and white, nothing is sealed in time and space – there’s a  lot of grey areas, but also a lot of colour to our world, and everything around us is fluid, ever changing. It is important to be reminded of that, especially when talking about the Middle East, the area often approached by oversimplification, constantly reduced to one (dark) image. It is like Suheir Hammad wrote in First writing since – „one more person assume they know me/ or that i represent a people/ or that a people represent an evil/ or that evil is as simple as a flag and words on a page/“.

It is never that simple. Here is the full interview I did with Tamara, discussing her project Picture an Arab man, self portrait workshops in Palestine, and first all female photo collective of the Middle East – Rawiya.

First of all – could you tell me – why photojournalism? When you finished your education, what was the motivation to pursue that as a career? Did you always know that is what you want to do?

I ended up pursuing photography shortly after getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was specialized in graphic design at the time, but I was drawn to photography after I moved to Dubai and became fascinated by the city and its huge population of migrant workers. I started photographing them, wanting to share their stories, and thats pretty much where it started. At that point I started working at Reuters as a photographer and photo editor and then went on photographing news and features for the New York Times around the Middle East. Around that time, I started working on my own personal projects.

Zamisli arapskog muškarca, Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Another question would be – why Middle East?

That’s easy. It’s my home. Where I was born and where my family history lies.

 You are a founding member of Rawiya, first all female photo collective of the Middle East. How did that happen and what were the reactions of the public so far?

Me and the other Rawiyas had crossed paths in Beirut and decided to join forces and create a photo collective, believing that there is power in numbers and hoping to present an insiders view of our region. The reaction has been great so far, we especially appreciate receiving emails from young photographers in the region and plan to give workshops in the near future. Rawiya has so far exhibited in Europe, the US, Beirut, Lebanon, Kuwait and the UAE.

You’ve taught a one year intensive photography program for young Palestinian women with the UNRWA, at a vocational women’s college in Palestine. The aim of the project was not only to teach the women the skills of photography and editing, but also to empower them to do more. Can you tell me something about that experience?

It was a very important experience for me. The project’s aim was to encourage these young women to share the world around them, and tell stories visually. Many of these women came from conservative backgrounds so it was great to challenge them to go out and shoot pictures. I’m a big believer that photography, as with other arts and media, can be successfully utilized in engaging our youth and getting their voices heard.

zamisli arapskog muškarca , Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 In your personal projects you set out to trigger social change and challenge stereotypes the Arab world faces. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what are the biggest stereotypes when it comes to Arabs and the outsiders perception of them?

There are so many misconceptions. All Arabs are Muslims. All women are oppressed. All men are the hyper masculine oppressors. There’s a side to the Arab world that gets SO much press, and that is what sticks in peoples heads. But there are people who want to know more and seek it out. If you look deeper, you will discover a region rich with diversity and culture.

 Your project, Picture an Arab Man, brings the viewer into a different relationship with stereotypes about Arab men – can you describe what were your main intentions with that project, and do you think you managed to carry them out?

My intention with Picture an Arab Man was to present the Arab Man in a more human way. When I started the project in 2008, I was sick of the generally misrepresentative portrayal of the Arab man, and wanted to bring about an alternative visual representation the contemporary Arab man.

 Do you believe that the project succeeded in encouraging Arab men to reflect on their own identity?

I hope so. I mean, with this project I presented a view, my view, of the Arab man. The father, brother, son, uncle, husband, friend. My father loves the project, so for me that is a success in and of itself.

Did your perception of Arab men change during the realization of that project and in which ways? 

I was moved by with their willingness to talk about their identities and masculinity, and of course their openness to be a part of this series. Every man that I photographed for the project believed in its message, and that, in essence, made the project worthwhile.

12Picture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 You also did a great project – Self portraits from inside Palestine. Journalists often deal with issues of presentation and representation, and people we see in the news almost never get a chance to choose how will they be seen, what moment will they be captured in, etc. Tell me something about the project and how you chose to approach these issues.

This specific project took place at Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, which people have called their home for decades. The residents of Amari and many other refugee camps are tirelessly photographed by outsiders. I thought, lets put the control in their hands. I wanted them to capture their own self portraits, and decide when to press button/shutter. It was an interactive exercise that promoted self expression, and really, community engagement. I usually focus this project on marginalized or underrepresented communities. I’ve since self portrait workshops with Syrian refugees in Amman, migrant workers in Dubai and youth in Kasserine, Tunisia.

A lot of your work is connected to Palestine and its people. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen and continue to see the new-old turmoil in Gaza. There is this perception these are the great escalations, and people seem to forget occupation itself is an escalation. What are your thoughts these days, when seeing the news, hearing the stories?

Palestinians are a resilient and beautiful people. There have been a lot of young photographers photographing the war and its aftermath in Gaza- and it is important to see it from a locals perspective.

Autoporteti iz Palestine, Tamara Abdul HadiSelf Portraits from inside Palestine, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Do you have any special wishes and plans for the future projects?

Publishing Picture an Arab Man as a book is a big future project for me, as well as my own personal projects and photography workshops- like the self portraits series. I recently registered an arts organization- Fannan– which I am using as a platform for these workshops.

 

/ /all photos © Tamara Abdul Hadi//

 

For more on Tamara Abdul Hadi and her projects – visit her official website and Rawiya collective.

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Algeria, art of resistance, Tunisia

North African Stories: Tunis & Algeria in 1950s.

I just stumbled upon George Rodger’s photos from Algeria in 1957 & Tunis in 1958. They are a part of Magnum’s North African Stories, Then & Now.

As they’ve described it on Magnum Photos Blog:

“Rodger’s work encapsulates Mid-20th Century photojournalistic practice, combining a spirit of adventure and ambition to objectively observe. In the 1940s and ‘50s Africa was still a continent relatively new to the medium of photography. Rodger first travelled there during the war following troop movements in Libya and Eritrea. In the foreword to his book, Desert Journey (1944), he writes: “the book is more a saga of travel than a chronicle of war. In it I make no pretence at analysis – no attempt to comment on the strategy of the various campaigns, to criticize the past or foretell the future. I write only of what I saw”. His photographs share a similar ambition, to report accurately and without exaggeration what was happening in front of him.”

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tumblr_n1f17zQMBI1rouua1o9_r1_500all photos © Magnum Photos

For more on this story, go to Magnum Photos.

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art of resistance, travel, Tunisia

Tunisia attempts to rescue Darth Vader’s hometown.

Author: Al Arabiya News

Tunisia’s tourism ministry and several organizations have announced an international fundraising campaign to rebuild a 1990s Star Wars set, built in the southern Tunisian area of Ong Jmel.

The campaign, named “Save Mos Espa,” aims to raise 300,000 Tunisian dinars ($188,929) to restore the site which has been damaged by shifting sand dunes.

Mos_Eisley_street

“Mos Epsa is located in a very windy region, threatened by sand dunes which the wind moves by around 15 meters a year. One dune has already buried 10 percent of the site,” Nabil Gasmi, a representative of one of the tourism groups involved in the campaign, said.

“We managed to remove 8,000 cubic meters of sand in 12 days. Unfortunately some of the set has already collapsed,” he added.

According to Fahmi Houki, an official at the tourism ministry, clearing the sand was only a temporary solution, and would only save the set for another eight to ten years.

Mos_Espa

The Tunisian state launched an appeal on a crowd funding website to raise $45,000. It also allocated 160,000 dinars for the project.

The set for Mos Espal, hometown of Anakin Skywalker, the protagonist who later becomes Darth Vader in the blockbuster film series, was originally built to film “Star Wars Episode One – The Phantom Menace.”

Tunisia’s tourism has been hit due to violence and political turbulence, following a 2011 uprising that toppled the president.

(With AFP)

 

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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

Meet five inspiring Arab fashion designers.

Author: Vera Illugadóttir/ Your Middle East

These designers have one thing in common – they all challenge conventional ideas about fashion in the Middle East.

Khaled al Qasimi

“There’s always this underlying influence of the UAE and Middle East in my design. The characters I design for are usually urban tribal warriors and nomadic explorers. The idea of dressing as art is part of our culture. The smoking of incense and the placement of the headdress – there’s a whole art to it,” Khaled al Qasimi told CNN.

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Fashion design is perhaps an usual career for a royal, but al Qasimi, the son of Sultan Mohamed al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, did not let that stop him. He studied literature and architecture in London before deciding to follow his dreams and go into fashion. He presented his first womenswear line in 2008, but has since found his niche in menswear. He presented the QASIMI HOMME collection in Paris in 2009 and has since built a loyal following.

Hatem Alakeel

“Rethinking the Saudi thobe is an awesome process for me because each time I am facing an ancient heritage from generations past. I believe that things must change in order to survive and the challenge is create a modern new look while retaining the elegant simplicity of the traditional thobe.”

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Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel dubs himself the “king of thobes”, and the stated mission of his brand Toby is to merge traditional Middle Eastern styles, like the thobe, the ankle-length robe worn by men in many Arab countries, with modern Western designs. Alakeel’s aim is allowing men to express their individuality and sense of fashion while still remaining faithful to the Gulf states’ culture and conventions. But his unique robes have even managed to attract attention and customers in the West, such as the rapper Snoop Dogg who bought a Toby thobe on a recent visit to Dubai.

Yasmine el Said

“At the end of the day, girls want to dress up. It’s what every girl in the world does. So I think the collection would be accepted by people here in Egypt, hopefully. But sometimes I feel like people won’t really get it. And I treat my clothes like my children. I’m very picky about how people use clothes,” Yasmine el Said told Manufactured Egos.

Création Yasmine EL SAID

Said studied at the prestigious fashion school ESMOD in Paris, returning home to Egypt to present her line -YASMINE- at 2012’s Cairo Fashion Festival. The collection’s edgy, bold looks created a stir at the festival, with Egyptian fashion bloggers describing Said as “probably the best thing to happen to Egypt’s fashion industry so far”. Her garments are highly exclusive, with only one or two copies manufactured of each design. Yasmine has said she hopes her unconventional garments will inspire Egypt’s women to “think differently”.

Salah Barka

“What I love about the revolution is that Tunisian artists are now emerging from everywhere! People have finally started to express themselves even more than they did before, they dare to showcase their work and this is fantastic!” Salah Barka said in an interview with Now Fashion.

Unlike many of Tunisia’s most famous fashion designers who are educated and work almost exclusively abroad, this up and coming designer has never left his homeland. You would not suspect it from looking at Barka’s cosmopolitan designs.

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The self-taught designer, who started out designing theatre costumes, takes inspiration for his colourful and playful garments equally from Tunisia’s rich cultural and historical heritage as well as the latest fashion on the streets and runways of London, Paris and New York.

Zhor Rais

“I truly want everyone to know about the Moroccan kaftan. I’ll pay the price to promote and market it abroad, and of course I’m happy when they sell, but it’s more important for me to be something of an ambassador for kaftans abroad,” Zhor Rais told The National.

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Moroccan designer Rais’s line of womenswear was lauded as one of the highlights of this year’s Muscat Fashion Week in Oman. The veteran designer first exhibited a collection in Oman twenty-five years ago, but her creativity shows no sign of stopping. Her extraordinarily colourful, patterned garments are inspired by traditional gowns of Moroccan women, the kaftan in particular.

Rais sets her sights high as her ideal demographic is not just the fashionable Moroccan woman — she dreams of making the kaftan an international phenomenon and has taken her work to fashion shows in Paris in pursuit of that goal.

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