News / Middle East

    Tunisia's Female Artists Fear Islamist Repression

    Women walk past a poster of the play ?Made in Tunisia, 100 percent halal? by Tunisian actor, playwright Lotfi Abdeli. The play was boycotted previously by hundreds of Salafi Muslims who believed the show was offensive to Islam, (File Photo).
    Women walk past a poster of the play ?Made in Tunisia, 100 percent halal? by Tunisian actor, playwright Lotfi Abdeli. The play was boycotted previously by hundreds of Salafi Muslims who believed the show was offensive to Islam, (File Photo).
    Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings. But on this International Women's Day, some Tunisian female artists say they feel less free than under the old regime.

    Tunisia has long been considered one of the most secular nations in the Arab region. But women artists fear their North African country may succumb to hardline Muslim pressure and ban art deemed un-Islamic.

    Muslim hardliners, known as Salafists, have fanned those fears. In recent months, they have protested against exhibitions and performances they say violate Islamic principles, forcing more than a dozen artistic events to be cancelled.

    But secular artists have no intention of giving ground, says painter Fayza M’Rabet, who last week mounted an exhibition in central Tunis featuring semi-abstract depictions of the nude female form. “It is the right moment to draw these nude women. It is dangerous. It is an engagement," said M’Rabet. "Engagement art.”

    The role of Islam in government and society has emerged as a divisive issue in Tunisia as it struggles to find its way in the wake of the popular uprising that toppled secular strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

    The country’s ruling Islamist party, Ennadha, which dominates the constituent assembly, says a balance needs to be struck between freedom of expression and protecting religious beliefs.
     
    Painter M’Rabet is undeterred by the argument. “We are in a revolution so we must show who we are, we are women and we are proud to be women and we must show our bodies without any restrictions. This is our revolution,” she stated.

    Secular artists believe that Ennahda is linked with Salifists who have been agitating against art exhibitions and plays.

    But party spokesmen deny this.  They say some artists are being purposefully provocative and they want a provision in a future constitution that would make it a criminal offense to insult religious beliefs.

    Artist Mona Lakdhar says she hasn’t felt direct pressure when it comes to her art and also doesn’t feel she is engaged in a subversive act. She’s an engraver and scores evocative outlines of naked women on wood. “I think that’s it not yet a political act because we used to paint women and it was not a problem. We are not afraid. We are not saying it is a political, not yet,” she noted.

    But she says she can’t ignore the acrimonious political debates beyond her studio and they are affecting her work. “I am influenced because when I work I work in the studio alone, I do my work, but with the revolution I can say the street came in my studio and pushed me to do engraving on wood of women who are screaming,,” Lakdhar explained.

    Islamist leaders say Tunisia’s religious identity was denied under ousted autocrat Ben Ali and that now to be corrected. But secular women artists say they have an identity, too, and it shouldn’t be denied either.

    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora