Tunisian Human Rights Activists Take to the Streets with Art 1 Favorite 



Feb 1 2015



Post revolution Tunisia is all too familiar with protest – usually through demonstrations - but one group of activists are using the power of street art to get their message across. Calling themselves “Fanni Raghman Anni” (Arabic for “My Art in Spite of Myself”), the group simply scouts the streets of Tunisia bringing theater and drama to random passers-by.

It was an idea that started among five people who were secretively taking part in politics and civil society under Ben Ali,” Seifeddine Jlassi, the leader of the group, told Al Arabiya News. “Some of us were drama graduates, some were fine arts graduates, and some were simply unemployed,” said Jlassi, who is a fine arts graduate. “We wanted to come up with new forms of protests, new forms of expressions and entertainment even, and performs them in alternative places such as the central market or simply the streets.”

Street art was rare of before the revolution, making Fanni Raghman Anni among the first groups to break the classic tradition of on-stage-performing, exposing with that a new type of audience – a type that is usually detached from the arts scene.

Impressing those spectators is not the group’s objective, emphasized the group leader, who is also the leader of the Union of Communist Youth of Tunisia (UJCT), the youth wing of the opposition Workers’ Party. “Our concern is not how many people applauded us and said ‘bravo’ while watching. Our goal is to actually provoke the audience. How do we shock the spectator? How do we make him question and think about what he saw?”

“He doesn’t need to be pleased with the show. He needs to be shocked to question his existence, the country, the current situation. We are not concerned with entertaining people as much as we are concerned with igniting their minds about unveiled issues,” Jlassi added.

Human rights activism is usually associated with round-table discussions, and workshops, and that is why the Tunisian youth refrain from joining this field, explained rights activist Anis Ben Soultane.

But Fanni Raghman Anni is dressing activism with arts, and with that reinventing the culture of activism in Tunisia, added Ben Soultane who worked with Jlassi in the Arab Institute for Human Rights. “Seif [Jlassi] is an activist before being an artist. It is true that his professional training was in arts, but he handled activism training at the institute like a natural,” said Ben Soultane. “He did not find a problem fitting in.”

Earlier this month, the group performed a 15-minute theatrical show called “Thalaith Nikat” (Arabic for “Three Principles”) on the capital’s busy Habib Bourguiba Avenue - a busy street that was symbolic to the 2011 protests.

With simple outfits and make up, the young activists put up an abstract act criticizing capital punishment. “We are against the death penalty regardless of its form, time, and location. It is against humanity,” Jlassi explained.

The show also criticized - what they say - is an alarming rise in adolescent suicide rates in Tunisia - an issue that has made national news headlines.

“We documented 14 cases in the last two months alone,” Jlassi said.

There were 26 suicides in December last year, according to a recent report by the Tunisian Social Observatory.

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