Title: I muri di Tunisi, segni di rivolta
Photographer(s): Luce Lacquaniti
Writer(s): Laura Guazzone, Michela Becchis, Mohamed Ali Ltaief
Publisher(s): Exorma Edizioni, Roma, Italy
Size: 16,5 x 19 cm
Print: CSC Grafica Srl. Guidonia, Italy
Nation(s) and year(s) of Protest: Tunisia, 2012 - 2014
Luce, why did you want to tell this story of the writing on the walls of Tunis?
I lived in Tunis immediately after the 2010-2011 revolution, in the midst of the "democratic transition", but above all of a true political and cultural rebirth, which was also expressed in languages that had never been used before, such as graffiti.
At the time I was in Tunisia to study Arabic and today I am a translator and interpreter; in addition, I had always been fascinated by writing on walls, which I have in fact been photographing for years wherever I go: I find it a particularly spontaneous and direct means of expression, they are thoughts launched into public spaces precisely to involve passers-by.
So I thought that these writings and images that appeared on the walls of the Tunisian capital in such an important historical period were a phenomenon to be documented, and that I had the linguistic and cultural tools to do so. In retrospect, I think I did a sort of translation work in a broad sense, that is, I wanted to bring back to the Italian public the political debate that took place on the other side of the Mediterranean, which then had universal points of interest, when we think that the Arab revolutions and their permanent sit-ins in the squares went on to inspire the Indignados, the Turkish protests of 2013 and the Occupy movement. We're talking about a global culture of resistance.
What happened in Tunis? What has changed since the revolution?
When I was first in Tunisia in 2010, just before the revolution, repression and fear reigned and it was impossible to express one's thoughts publicly. The public space was dominated by single party propaganda and portraits of the dictator, while the walls were (almost) completely white. With the revolution, however, the walls became covered with words and images. They were therefore the symptom of a new climate of freedom of speech, of the will of ordinary citizens to participate in collective debate and of an urgency to regain possession of public spaces from below. On the walls people were suddenly talking about politics and discussing the same topics, once taboo, that were discussed in any other place: in constituent assemblies, in newspapers, on TV, at school, in cabs, in cafes. Today, this enthusiasm has waned because the country's serious socio-economic problems, which sparked the revolution, remain unresolved after ten years, and Tunisians are increasingly losing faith in politics and the possibility of change (as are we, for that matter). However, the conquered freedom of expression remains a fixed point and, every time there is a new wave of protests, as in recent weeks, the walls are covered again with slogans, hashtags and keywords.
I guess it's mostly young people who write on the walls?
Actually, the interesting thing is that this means of expression has been transversally exploited by all categories, the whole of Tunisian society could really be found doing it. Of course, often the graffiti is anonymous, but sometimes it is signed by specific groups or parties, while at other times it is easy to guess the side or age of the graffiti from the content. I have documented writings of young radicals, communists and anarchists, as well as conservatives, Islamists, those nostalgic for pan-Arabism, enemies of unions and strikes. In fact, after the revolution, Tunisia was able to confront all its different components for the first time.
Another phenomenon has been that of appropriation from above, which has helped to de-power the graffiti, or rather, at some point the political parties began hiring young writers to make murals for their election campaigns: notable, for example, the one for the campaign of President Beji Caid Essebsi, a codger recycled from the ancien régime, now deceased. In 2011 the collective Ahl al-Kahf had dedicated a portrait to him, on the walls, with the words "I can't dream with my grandfather" next to it. There is certainly a generational gap, in Tunisia: it is no coincidence that the young people protesting today call themselves the movement of the "wrong generation".
What was the period in which you took the photos of the walls of Tunis?
Most of the photos date back to the period September 2012-June 2013, during which time I lived permanently in Tunis and also experienced firsthand, day to day, many of the critical events commented on the walls (eg. the novelty of the ruling Islamists, the controversy over the articles of the new Constitution, the repression in the city of Siliana in November 2012, the dreaded general strike, the political murder of Chokri Belaid in February 2013, the ensuing government crisis and the solution of the Civil Society Quartet that went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize). After my return to Italy, in 2013, the idea of publishing my archive was born and I found support for this project at the Roman publishing house Exòrma; at that point, I decided to complete the documentation both by integrating photos of friends and writers covering the period 2011-2012, and by returning to Tunisia several times to take new photos until December 2014. In this way, the entire period of the official democratic transition is covered in the book, that is, from the 2010-2011 revolution to the publication of the new Constitution and the new elections in 2014.
At the end of this period, what has remained with you?
For me, it was a period of invaluable experiences, human, emotional, political and professional. It changed my life. I was 25 years old and found myself in the midst of a revolutionary creative ferment. Anything could happen, or more likely we were under the illusion that it could.
Tunisian friends, artists, activists, teachers and roommates are the real protagonists of this book: they welcomed me, guided me to an understanding of the country, formed me and raised me in the culture of solidarity and love of knowing the other.