Dream City 2023: Celebrating Art and Resisting Injustice in the Heart of Tunis

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Dream City, a visionary festival founded in 2007 by dancers and choreographers Selma and Sofianne Ouissi, is back for its 9th edition in Tunis. This year’s event, which took place from September 22 to October 8, 2023, brings together a diverse group of artists, thinkers, and activists from across the globe, aiming to give voice to a future that is different from the turbulent realities of today.

The festival’s core mission is to bridge the gap between art and the pressing issues of our time. In a world where borders, whether physical or symbolic, are constantly questioned and often sources of conflict, Dream City seeks to capture the interconnected realities that bind us all. The program is a reflection of these tumultuous times, where discussions and protests against injustices are woven into the fabric of the event.

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Caserne El Attarine. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

Artists, thinkers, and activists from countries such as Tunisia, Congo, Morocco, Sudan, Palestine, Mali, Egypt, Gambia, Lebanon, the United States, Portugal, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom converge in Tunis to open dialogues, inspire change, and advocate for deep and unconditional solidarity among all communities within their programming.

In light of recent tragic events in Tunisia, including the expulsion and death of refugees in the Sahara, Dream City takes a clear stance in favor of an open and inclusive space, promoting unity and solidarity among all communities on their territory.

Selma and Sofianne Ouissi, the founders of Dream City, express their commitment to reflect the complex tensions that Tunisia is currently facing. They seek to unite artistic expression with the burning issues of their country and the world, emphasizing the urgent need to address the crises we collectively confront.

Since 2015, Jan Goossens has been working alongside the Ouissis as the co-artistic director. For this year’s edition, they invited curator Hoor Al Qasimi to oversee ‘Dream Projects,’ a visual arts initiative. This collaboration brings together a diverse range of artistic visions, creating a synergy that enriches the festival.

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Monira Al Qadiri, Crude Eye, 2022. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

One of the highlights of this year’s Dream City is the transformation and activation of the historic Caserne El Attarine, which was previously frequented by Tunisian intellectuals and cultural figures. This space, reconfigured for Dream Projects, offers a place for the public to engage with books, archives, discussions, and artworks that reflect the current social and political climate.

Art installations and films on display cover a wide range of themes. For instance, Gabriela Golder’s ‘Conversation Piece (2012)’ explores generational discussions of class struggle and social rebellion. Manthia Diawara’s ‘Angela Davis: A World of Greater Freedom (2023)’ delves into the life and work of the American activist, offering new perspectives on critical thought and inspiring new imaginaries. Monira Al Qadiri’s ‘Crude Eye (2022)’ vividly brings to life her childhood memories of an oil refinery as a sprawling metropolis.

The Living and the Dead Ensemble presents ‘The Wake (2021),’ a project centered on the potential of the night as a space for political struggles. Marwa Arsanios’ film series, ‘Who is Afraid of Ideology? (2017 – ongoing),’ portrays alternative ways of living in harmony with nature, challenging established systems of oppression. Ferielle Doulain-Zouari, with ‘Where do the roads end and the writing begins? (2023),’ pays homage to the legacy of Caserne El Attarine as a souk for perfumes and henna.

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The Living and the Dead Ensemble, The Wake, 2021. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

Sonia Kallel’s ‘Forward Stitch – Backward Stitch (2023)’ explores the history of the L’Ecole des Cadres au Collège of Bad Diedid, preserving the importance of its influential teaching. Gabriela Golder’s ‘Broken Eyes (2023)’ sheds light on punitive state violence, focusing on the intentional targeting of protestors’ eyes during mass protests.

Khalil Rabah’s ‘Olive Gathering (2023)’ challenges the notions of museums, identity, and culture through an installation with olive trees, central to life in both Palestine and Tunisia. Michael Rakowitz’s ‘Return (2004 – ongoing)’ recreates his grandfather’s import-export company, offering insights into the complexities of importing Iraqi dates to the US.

Sound artist Tarek Atoui presents ‘Al Gaball,’ a research and performative project influenced by Tara music traditions. Mounira Al Soln’s ‘A Day is as Long as a Year’ documents the experiences of those forced to leave their homes, with a focus on women in the Arab world.

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Khalil Rabah, Olive Gathering, 2023. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

Several locations in downtown Tunis showcase works by Bouchra Khalili and Remi Kuforiji. Khalili’s ‘The Circle (2023)’ examines the legacy of the French Arab Workers Movement. Remi Kuforiji’s ‘Water No Get Enemy: Counter-Cartographies of Diaspora (2020 – ongoing)’ addresses neocolonial crude oil extraction and ecocide practices in the Niger Delta. Nil Yalter contributes by painting the words ‘Exile is a Hard Job’ in multiple languages over posters plastered on walls.

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Sonia Kallel, Forward Stitch – Backward Stitch, 2023. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

In addition, Dream City features screenings of two thought-provoking films. Manthia Diawara’s ‘An Opera of the World (2017)’ reflects on migration and the ongoing refugee crisis, while ‘Les Ambassadeurs,’ produced in 1975 by Naceur Kari, explores the relationships between North African immigrants and their French neighbors in Paris.

‘BIRD,’ curated by Sofianne Ouissi and performed by Selma Ouissi, invites visitors to re-think their relationship with the living. This multidisciplinary festival combines dance, theater, song, visual arts, and celebration to provide a rich and inspiring experience.

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BIRD, Curated by Sofianne Ouissi and performed by Selma Ouissi. © Suzette Bell-Roberts

Dream City 2023 reaffirms the values of respect and tolerance, countering anti-migrant and anti-refugee policies that are on the rise globally. The festival continues to be a powerful platform for uniting art and creativity to drive positive change, inspiring a different and better future.

For more information, please visit the Dream City website.

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