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“In Tunisia, Islamists are taking legal proceedings against many artists”

gigi-ibrahim

During the years of Ben Ali’s dictatorship, El Teatro in Tunis, the arts venue directed by Zeyneb Farhat, survived by billing shows of all kinds, and inventing codes and a special vocabulary to get round censorship and be able to criticise the regime. “We were the most censored place in Tunisia, if you look at the statistics. […] As a place for creation we had a great time, but as a civic space it was really tough, because our audience has always been left-wing secular civil society”, explains Farhat, who recognises that since the revolution they’ve been able to stage shows much more freely, which has prompted an upsurge in creativity in the country. “Every day we discover new artists, caricaturists and people who practise the visual arts and make short films.” Nonetheless, the theatre director warns of cases of censorship and prosecution of art by Islamists. At a recent exhibition, Islamists denounced two artists, a painter and a visual artist, considering that their work “touched on sacred issues”, and the Tunisian government itself took them to court. “Legal proceedings have been brought against lots of artists in Tunisia, which is why we defend 8 points in the new Tunisian Constitution that guarantee the right to freedom of expression in the world of art and culture”, the activist concludes.

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Zeyneb Farhat >

Director of El Teatro
Zeyneb Farhat is a journalist, cultural activist and co-director of El Teatro in Tunis, for decades the only independent theatre in the Arab world, programming controversial works that dodged censorship under the regime of Ben Ali. Farhat was also president of the Democratic Women’s Association of Tunisia, and has promoted Euro-Mediterranean initiatives for the arts and culture.