Tunisian artists call for international support

Tunisian artists denounce what they call government-backed extremist attacks against them

Industry, Tunisia

Tunisian artists call for international support

The Tunisian collective for Art, Culture and Freedom has launched a mass international appeal after reports of several attacks targeting the artistic and cultural community in several parts of the country. 

The latest attack took place earlier this month on the last day of an exhibition entitled “Printemps des Arts” (lit. “Spring of Art”) held in the Abdelliya Palace in La Marsa, north of Tunis.

According to the Tunisian Collective for Art, Culture and Freedom, a security guard photographed some of the paintings and took them to a local mosque run by fundamentalists, claiming that the works were blasphemous. Islamist groups on Facebook then made a montage of a few of the paintings they considered blasphemous, adding photos of paintings and works that had never been exhibited. The Abdelliya Palace was subsequently attacked by a group of extremists, who destroyed and burned works of art. Several people were injured and one of the Salafi protesters died.

According to the artist collective, the Tunisian government took the protesters’ side, accusing the artists of disrespecting symbols of Islam. Tunisia’s culture minister Mehdi Mabrouk decided to close the Abdelliya Palace and is suing the exhibition’s organisers. The visual artists collective has announced that, in return, it would sue three ministers, including the minister of culture.

The collective has reported that some leaders of public opinion such as the imam of the Zitouna Mosque, a major mosque in Tunis, and Salafi group leaders have openly called out for the murder of artists, who now receive daily death threats via text message, phone call, or social media. 

The Tunisian ministry for religious affairs has however prohibited the prominent imam from further preaching at the Zitouna Mosque, calling him irresponsible, according to the AFP

The Tunisian collective for Art, Culture and Freedom has called for an international solidarity campaign to show disapproval for what they nevertheless see as the government’s support for the extremists against their “freedom of conscience, creation, and expression.”

To read the collective's international appeal in English and French and to sign their online petition, please click here.

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