While Tunisia boasts a rich cultural heritage spanning millennia, a significant shift occurred in the dynamics between art and politics in the country following the 2011 Tunisian Revolution. An era of censorship gave way to a freedom of expression, sparking questions on how to use it. Pioneering the way in the contemporary art sphere, established in 2013 by gallerist Selma Feriani, first in London and subsequently in Sidi Bou Said, Tunis, Feriani’s eponymous gallery has pursued a mission to discover and champion both emerging and established artists from the MENA region and beyond. The gallery endeavours to present a progressive, politically and socially conscious programme, organising thought provoking exhibitions and installing public interventions internationally. Providing an environment for discourse between Europe and Africa, Feriani’s aim is to create opportunities for exploration, research and exchange between the two continents.

Selma Feriani. Photo: Paul Mesnager

By supporting the growing art infrastructure in Tunisia and North Africa, Feriani offers artists a nurturing platform with exceptional local and international curation. The ambitious gallerist has announced the launch of a new space in January 2024, a few kilometres northeast of the Tunisian capital’s downtown area. The new site, set to be the first commercial space of its kind in North Africa, is designed by architect Chacha Atallah, spanning 2000 square metres. Selma Feriani tells Something Curated: “I was very enthusiastic about developing this project with an entirely Tunisian team from design and architecture to construction and of course project management. Chacha is a Tunisian architect from my generation, I have collaborated on previous projects with her in the past and have chosen to continue our partnership on this exciting new gallery space.”

Feriani continues: “Together, we also decided to look back at the history of our local architecture and savoir faire, modernise some of the construction and architectural practices and apply museum standards to the new gallery space. Our focus on environmental sustainability and climate resilience profoundly shaped the project’s architectural design, culminating in a monolithic aesthetic. A straightforward, well-insulated structure with minimal openings was chosen to mitigate interactions with a climate that has experienced substantial warming over the years. To contend with prolonged periods of drought, a rainwater harvesting system was integrated. This holistic approach extends to the human ecosystem within this environment.”

Nidhal Chamekh, Nos visages, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Selma Feriani

The launch of the new space marks over a decade of growth for the gallery, at home and internationally, as celebrated with the inaugural exhibition of unseen work by Paris-based Tunisian artist Nidhal Chamekh. Running from 25 January to 7 April 2024, a substantial part of Chamekh’s inaugural exhibition will be produced in Tunis at the gallery’s L’Atelier space. On what interests her in Chamekh’s work, Feriani notes: “Nidhal Chamekh’s artistic practice transcends specific geographic and social subject matter, drawing influence from the popular culture of Tunis, the contemporary politics of Tunisia, and his experiences living in Europe. Working across various media, Chamekh’s inclination towards complexity is evident in his transcultural, sociopolitical research and artistic commitment to macrocosmic and primordial questions regarding beginnings, endings, and the cycle of life and death.”

Over the past fifteen years, Feriani has established herself as a key figure in Tunisia’s art scene, at the helm of a cultural hub which is bringing international eyes to the nation’s artists, cultivating a local contemporary art market, as well as revitalising cultural legacies. Expanding on how the Tunisian art landscape has evolved over the recent years, she explains to SC: “The Tunisian art landscape has been evolving slowly but surely thanks to the initiatives of a group of key players in the industry. I would like to mention Dream City Festival produced by L’Art Rue association, for their vital role in public spaces and their impactful projects for the community in downtown and the medina of Tunis. Non-profit art centres 32bis and La Boîte have established a strong programme of residencies, exhibitions as well as publications for local artists.”

Selma Feriani, Tunis. Opening in 2024. Photo: Hamza Bennour. Courtesy of Selma Feriani

“Today in Tunisia, we are witnessing a growing number of young artists experimenting with new forms and styles of art production, a permanent use of the public space without any restrictions from the government and local communities. Additionally, there’s a proliferation of artists’ studios in the suburbs of Tunis, the capital. Visual artists in Tunisia are not only conveying ideas but also witnessing history and commenting on political and social affairs. This is incredibly inspiring and affords us an opportunity to reflect on our own cultural values,” Feriani continues.

On what she would like to see change in the near future, the gallerist adds: “We are actively working towards establishing a more prominent international presence through ambitious and challenging projects in our new gallery space, both within and beyond Tunisia. This includes an endeavour to grow the number of art collectors in Tunisia and a continued commitment to advancing artist’s practices while showcasing their works in institutions worldwide. Furthermore, we aim to develop site-specific projects that bridge our new space with our residency programme at L’Atelier.”

Feature image: Selma Feriani, Tunis. Opening in 2024. Photo: Hamza Bennour. Courtesy of Selma Feriani

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