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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitcheni
X
September 22, 2014 11:42 AM
With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid