Tunisia’s cultural scene is largely concentrated in the capital Tunis. Almost all independent theaters, more than two thirds of the only twenty or so cinemas that still exist nationwide are located there, and a large proportion of the galleries and festivals. Although there are state houses of culture in many, even smaller, cities in the country, these often served more RCD propaganda events than cultural events. With the revolution, however, a noticeable shift can be observed, for example the budget for the festivals in Tunis and Hammamet (music and theater), which take place every summer, has been cut significantly, and more is being invested in festivals inland. Also has the alternative music sceneget more attention and freedom. In autumn, the Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage, the oldest African film festival, and the Journées Théâtrale de Carthage take place, at which films and theater productions are shown mainly from the Arab region and Africa. In March 2018, a prestige project, the Cité de la culture, started under the Ben Ali government. Among other things, there is a museum for modern art, an opera hall (although there are no opera productions in Tunisia) and the cinematheque, which has been planned for more than 30 years.
According to mathgeneral, Tunisia has a long film tradition. The first film productions were made around 1900, the first medium-length feature film in the 1920’s, shot by Albert Samama Chikly. After a heyday in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the signs of a general suffocation of the cultural scene and civil society in general made themselves felt in Tunisian cinema. Towards the mid-2000’s, a group of younger independent directors ventured a cautious new beginning, with films that broke with the usual narrative schemes and themes of classic Tunisian auteur cinema. At the same time, the documentary and short film scene has been dynamic for several years, so that the most exciting current productions can often be discovered there. However, the industry suffers economic problems especially in the field of sales. Very few films are made without state subsidies. There has been a certain upward trend in recent years. The influence of foreign co-productions on Tunisian film is increasingly being called into question.
Many foreign large-scale productions such as “The English Patient” or parts of “Star Wars” were shot in the Tunisian desert. Tunisia has had its own cinematheque since 2018.
The focus of Tunisian theater productions is on socially critical acting. Some independent theaters located in Tunis regularly present internationally successful pieces, such as El Hamra and El Teatro, which is directed by Zeineb Farhat and Taoufiq Jbeli and also has an exhibition space where many young Tunisian artists can be seen. Most famous internationally are the works of Fadhel Jaaibi and Jalila Baccar, whose critical pieces are shown at many Arab and European festivals. As a rule, pieces are played in Tunisian, but mostly there are performances with French subtitles.
Perhaps the best-known Tunisian style of music is the mezoued, a popular bagpipe music, without which Tunisian weddings hardly take place and with which most Tunisians are connected in a kind of love-hate relationship. Maalouf, an Andalusian-inspired instrumental and vocal music, is also very popular. Many young singers use pieces from the first half of the century, for example by Salihaor Hedi Jouini, whose often very revealing lyrics only get through nowadays, as the pieces are considered classics of Tunisian songs. The oud players Anouar Brahem and Dhafer Youssef, who are known far beyond the borders of Tunisia, make modern instrumental music. Opposition songwriters such as Bendir Man (who was banned from performing under Ben Ali) or Mounir Troudi, who was inspired by the Sufi tradition, are particularly successful with young people. There is also a small but growing group of DJs and video artists in Tunis who make electronic music. The rapper El General, who wrote the anthem of the Tunisian revolution with his piece Rais El Bled (“The President of the Country”), in which he openly criticized Ben Ali, could hardly build on the success. Younger rappers like Kafon, Klay BBJ orWeld El15, who in their songs describe the situation in the slums and the young people’s lack of perspective, into the public eye, mostly because they had to answer in court for drug use or violent lyrics, such as Weld El15 with his song Boulicia Kleb (“Policemen are dogs). The rapper was acquitted after several legal proceedings in December 2013.
Besides Tunisian musicians, Tunisians usually listen to a lot of classical Arabic music such as Abdelwahab, Oum Kalthoum and Fairouz.
Many galleries, which are mainly located in the northern suburbs of Tunis such as La Marsa and Sidi Bou Said and in Hammamet, exhibit young Tunisian artists. In the Palais Kheireddine, in the old town of Tunis, is the Museum of the City of Tunis, where regular exhibitions are also held. The Printemps d’art de la Marsa, an art festival that takes place annually in early summer, offers a good overview of current trends in painting, sculpture and photography. Internationally known is the calligrapher Nja Mahdaoui, whose work even adorns aircraft.
Graffiti artists are increasingly conquering public space, but they keep coming into conflict with the state. On the island of Djerba, the Djerbahood transformed an entire village into an open air museum. The caricature and comic scene, with the regime-critical _Z_ as a pioneer, has also experienced a boom since 2011, and young photographers are also increasingly establishing themselves.
Tunisian literature is written in both Arabic and French, so that at least parts of it are also accessible to a European audience (although Arabic-language literature is unfortunately rarely translated). An issue of the British literary magazine Banipal, unfortunately not available online, is dedicated to modern Tunisian authors.
The Tunisian “national poet” is Abu El Qassem Chebbi (1909-1934), who was heavily influenced by European romantic literature. His poems are part of every Tunisian school lesson. His poem “To the tyrants of this world”, which addresses the French colonial power without naming them, is Chebbi’s best-known work, along with “The Will to Live” (from which some verses were made the refrain of the Tunisian national anthem).
Every spring there is a sales fair in Tunis, where mainly publishers from the Arab world exhibit. Tunisian publishers publish 1,000 to 1,500 books a year, the majority of which are scientific and technical publications. The situation of Tunisian publishers is therefore largely precarious. Only 20% of Tunisians said they bought a book in 2009. With the revolution, import restrictions and censorship of books were lifted, for weeks real crowds of people formed in front of the bookshops, attracted by previously forbidden mainly political books.