Job shadowing with EUNIC members in Tunis: A blog post

Oct 31, 2019

Romina Delia from Arts Council Malta spent a few days with EUNIC colleagues in Tunis soaking up the local culture, art scene and planning for future collaboration between artists from Europe and the north Africa region. Here she fills us in with her reflections on her trip.

"Arts need to focus on reducing global fear and radicalization. We need to put people in front of each other to build understanding.” Oussama Rifahi

I’m still feeling rather overwhelmed, in a very positive way, by all the friendly people I met in Tunis and by the contemporary art scene which I have experienced there. There is this energy and warmth of something which is very familiar, but which still needs further exploration. There are vibrant colours, pottery, leather, spices, herbs, tea houses, Berber carpets and jewellery everywhere you look in the historic Medina of Tunis. The contemporary art scene seems to be blossoming and the music, art and dance I encountered during the Dream City festival fused the traditional with the contemporary in beautiful historic sites, old monasteries and palaces of the Medina.

The Mediterranean island I’m currently living on, Malta, is only less then an hour away by plane from Tunis - we’re so close, yet at the same time so far apart. We share a similar language, cuisine, history, culture and what not, yet the amount of contemporary arts projects we co-create or showcase to each other is scarce, if non existent.

I chose Tunisia as my location for the EUNIC job shadowing experience in October this year for this reason, to try to connect with our neighbours down south, to try to build bridges and open doors. I was hosted by the Goethe-Institut and the British Council in Tunis with a focus on the EU funded Tfanen project. On Monday morning, the day after I arrived, I started the day at the Tfanen office in Tunis, where I met the EUNIC Tunis cluster. I joined their monthly breakfast meeting, where the European cultural institutes based in Tunis gave an update of what they were working on. After that I stayed at the Tfanen office for several hours meeting most of the people working on the project. I spent time with the fund managers, the evaluations and monitoring team, the communications team and with the team leader. The Tfanen project, led by the British Council, was awarded funding by the EU to strengthen cultural operators across Tunisia to professionalise the sector.

On the invitation of Andrea Jacob, the director of the Goethe-Institut in Tunis, I also spent several hours attending music and dance performances as well as short film presentations by young film makers supported by the Goethe-Institut. I also visited the headquarters of the Association L’Art Rue for a presentation of the Dream City Festival which was  hppening whilst I was there. I attended various audio visuals, immersive installations and music concerts during the festival. Among the works which touched me the most was the interactive sound installation called “Garden Speaks” by Tania El Khoury, based on the oral histories of ten people who were buried in gardens across Syria during the first two years of the uprising. I was invited to take off my shoes, enter a garden space and walk on the soil barefoot, dig with my hands one of the tombstones in order to get to the sound source, lie on the soil in front of the tombstone, and listen to the story being whispered in my ears of one of the deceased Syrians, as told by his family members. At the end of the story I was invited to write a letter back to the family of the person whose story I had just heard.

While I was in Tunisia, I also spent some hours meeting local artists and visiting their art studio. I had meetings with the culture projects team of the British Council and spent time at the Goethe-Institut, were they went into great detail explaining to me the cultural projects they are currently working on.

I spent less then a week in Tunis, however, my plan is to go back to North Africa and the Middle East to learn more about the contemporary art scene there, as well as to try to comprehend better the socio-political context which the Mediterranean is surrounded by. The aim is to get a better understanding, engage in dialogue, gain trust and establish further contacts for further cultural exchanges and artistic collaborations.

The EUNIC Job Shadowing Scheme is EUNIC's most important mobility activity enabling cultural professionals working at EUNIC members’ headquarters or in their branches worldwide to exchange knowledge and learn from each other. 63 cultural professionals are going to visit with 28 different hosting organisations worldwide between September 2019 and June 2020. The second edition will be launched in April 2020.