We imagine that you have been following the current news in Tunisia these days. Here is a short recap:
Repeated physical aggressions against Tunisian artists and intellectuals have taken place in several regions of the country: March 2012, a theatrical event was attacked by thousands of Salafists in downtown Tunis and artists were aggressed. Intellectuals were attacked during public conferences. May 2012, an attempt to murder with severe physical aggression took place on a theatre professor and artist and the members of an artistic association in Kef… All this happened openly and publicly without intervention of the police and without a serious position being taken by the government to protect artists and condemn and arrest the aggressors!
From June 1st to 10th 2012, the « Printemps des Arts » exhibition took place in Tunis. All went well until the last day when a bailiff took photos a few of the paintings and took them to a Mosque held by fundamentalists, claiming that the works were blasphemous. Islamist groups on Facebook then made a montage of a few of the paintings they judged blasphemous (the caricature of a bearded man, the installation of women’s busts being lapidated, ants coming out of a schoolchild’s bag and forming the word « Glory to God » knowing that the ant is a privileged insect in the Qur’an) and adding photos of paintings and works that had never been exhibited in the event let alone in Tunisia.
From that moment, a snowball effect ensued: extremists attacked the Abdelliya Palace were the exhibition took place, destroying and burning works of art, private and public premises were vandalised, confrontations between the police and fundamentalists took place causing dozens of wounded and even one death among the ranks of the Salafist trouble makers….
Instead of appeasing tensions and re-establishing the truth about the exhibition, the members of Government accused the artists of attacking symbols of Islam.
The authorities thus entertained the confusion in the minds of the people and participated to the division. And on top of all that, our own Minister, M Mehdi Mabrouk, Minister of Culture, contributed to blacklisting of creators by deciding to close the space Abdelliya and by suing the organisers of the exhibition, thus exposing the artists to popular condemnation and trial by the mob.
Some leaders of opinion such as the Imam of the Zitouna Mosque (http://www.tuniscope.com/index.php/article/14137/actualites/tunisie/fdfdds-481415), or heads of Salafist groups, clearly called out for the murder of our artists. Many artists now receive death threats by text message, or phone calls or through the social networks every day.
The Union of visual artists announced in a press conference that they would sue three Ministers including the Minister of Culture.
We are writing to you, dear colleagues, friends of Art and freedom in order for you to support us in the face of this new Inquisition. We ask you to publish press releases expressing your solidarity with the Tunisian artists.
In order for this to have a strong and efficient impact, these releases should be official and signed by a large number of unions and associations in the fields of Art (visual art, cinema, dance, theatre, music…)
A very vigorous international denunciation addressed to this government published in Newspapers and on the Net would represent and extraordinary disavowal which would force them to preserve freedom of conscience, creation, expression and the life of artists.
The situation is very critical and your support and commitment for our cause would be a salutary action.
Thanking you in advance for your support.
The Tunisian collective for Art, Culture and Freedom.