Tunisia’s art scene has gained momentum since the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 but its restaurant and food culture has not kept pace. However, behind closed doors in supper clubs and even private art salons, a new and exciting interpretation of Tunisian cuisine is beginning to emerge.
The old Medina quarter of Tunis is the epicenter of an artistic and cultural movement that has blossomed since the revolution of 2011. It is home to a number of public festivals such as Dream City, a multidisciplinary contemporary art event that has grown over the past seven years and inspired other festivals, such as the art biennial Interference.
At Medina’s southern edge in an old stone house is the atelier of Sabri Ben Mlouka, Tunisia’s best-known fine art nude photographer. A grand gate and a candlelit passageway lead to a large black-walled salon that opens onto a modernist garden. His works in progress hang on the walls, graceful nudes photographed surreptitiously in Catholic cathedrals, private rooms or roadsides in front of grazing sheep. One disarmingly intimate photo is of a 70-year-old woman in a bath, lost in thought.
Ben Mlouka eschews public galleries in favor of private exhibitions. He told Al-Monitor, “The work is very intimate, so during the course of the private viewing, I want my guests to enjoy this feeling of intimacy. I don’t seek publicity or public promotion; I prefer to keep things discreet.”
“There’s a lot of hypocrisy here [in Tunisia],” he went on. “People [here] are sensitive to eroticism and fetishism but are too afraid to talk about it publicly. I seek to push the limits of taboos. The women [who pose for me] want to push their own limits.”
At the small, private events, select guests drinks Tunisia’s finest wines and feast upon the experimental cuisine of chef Malek Labidi. Ben Mlouka and Malek Labidi met by chance in 2018 and the photographer became the chef’s collaborator and muse.
Labidi returned to Tunis to open La Bo’M in 2011 after studying in France and working for the great chef Alain Ducasse in Paris. In 2015, she sold her restaurant and started a daily culinary show on Tunisia’s Nessma TV. She was invited to judge Arabic TV cooking competitions.
Labidi told Al-Monitor, “When I met Sabri, he told me that I would have no budget restrictions, as I would be preparing a meal for just a handful of people who were used to [eating at] top restaurants. So it was a great opportunity. It is the only place that I do my own cuisine because they are not customers.”
The planning starts a few weeks before a new exhibition, with Ben Mlouka sharing his photos with Labidi. “It is a very close collaboration between us — often I am the first to look at his photography,” Labidi said. They create a menu inspired by what will be exhibited. “He shows me the photos and says something like, ‘I want something hot, spicy or something black.’”
“It always starts with an amuse-bouche,” she explained, followed by a dinner of seven or eight small plates made from seasonal, locally sourced produce. “Maybe some foie gras with date and mint,” she told Al-Monitor, explaining that she likes to tease and surprise the guests. “When somebody eats my food, I want them to reflect a bit on what they have eaten, and slowly realize what the flavors and ingredients are in a dish.”
Chef, culinary historian and artist Rafram Chaddad, commonly known as Rafram, connects to a larger audience through gastronomic cultural experiences.
A Tunisian of Jewish origin who returned to his homeland in 2015, Rafram runs cultural tours around Jewish Tunis and the Ghriba synagogue on the Island of Djerba during the pilgrimage of Lag BaOmer every year. He not only encourages Jews to reconnect with the land they left but Tunisians and other Arabs to embrace their common history.
Born in Djerba in 1976, Rafram emigrated to Israel with his parents when he was three. He said he returned to Tunisia in 2015 to concentrate on his passions for art, culture and gastronomy. “[I thought I was] basically moving to a better place for me — a place that would make my life easier. But my move to Tunis became a political statement because of the Jewish-Muslim conflict,” he told Al-Monitor.
“There are 200 Jews in Tunis and 1,500 in total in Tunisia,” he pointed out, adding that the Israeli government has been striving to destroy the Jewish heritage in Arab countries for its own political ends. “They are making a lot of efforts to destroy a 2,700-year-old community,” he said.
In Tunis, he is known for his monthly gastronomic events at Dar Ben Gacem, one of Medina’s emerging luxury boutique hotels. Rafram takes guests on culinary explorations through dishes and accompanying talks.
“During the dinner, I present the history of the recipes the customers have just eaten and the local customs,” he explained.
He includes food in his other art, such as an installation titled “Pkeika.” Raw spinach flutters in a glass box in a wink to the slow-cooked spinach-based stew that is part of Tunisia’s Jewish cuisine.
“Fish Smuggler” is an X-ray image of fish inside a suitcase. “This is called the ‘Fish Smuggler’ because I always take fish to my mother [in Jerusalem]. I freeze them and put them in my suitcase,” he said with a laugh. “She asks me for many things, not only fish. Fish is the strangest of her requests.”
“Fish Smuggler,” an X-ray image of fish inside a suitcase. Rafram Chaddad
He compared the fish to his family’s story, saying, “Fish have neither nationality nor a country.”
For Rafram, food is one of the many battlegrounds of the Israeli-Arab-Jewish conflict. “Israel appropriates Arab Jewish food. It is occupied food, strange and weird as it sounds,” he said.
Water themes will be on display at art event in Lund – Powell River Peak
Self-described amphibiographer Terry L. Brown will be sharing his passion for the water through an aquatic video and photo presentation, and through a workshop, where interested parties can learn about photography and videography around the water.
As part of Ebb and Flow, a water-themed art show at Tidal Art Centre on Finn Bay Road in Lund, Brown will be showing photographs and videos he has taken around and under the water, with the showing on Thursday, August 18, at 7 pm.
“You don’t even have to get wet to enjoy viewing some of my wondrous videos and photos,” said Brown.
For the adventurous who want to learn some aquatic photography techniques, Brown is offering an in-water workshop on August 20, with a venue to be determined, depending on wind and wave conditions on the ocean.
“I’ve had some fascinating experiences in this amazing aquatic world and I love to share it with people,” said Brown.
Regarding the Ebb and Flow art show, Brown said he has four aquatic-themed photos as part of the display. He said his presentation at the art centre will showcase what he calls amphibiography.
“The images are at the interface of water, air and land,” said Brown. “There are still photos that are half above water and half under. There are video images that transition from underwater to above water. I will be showing videos and photos that evening and explaining how I get the images, for people who are interested in photography and underwater photography.
“Then, on Saturday, August 20, I’m offering a workshop for those people who want to participate in and practice some aquatic videos. It will be shallow water, either in the shallow ocean water if it’s not too windy and wavy, or, it will be in a lake if ocean conditions aren’t good.”
Breathe deep and dive shallow
This will be a snorkel event, not a scuba diving event.
Brown said most of his photography and videography is actually at or near the water’s surface.
“Most people think you have to go deep to get good stuff,” said Brown. “I do scuba dive but most of my work is close to the surface. It’s basically about as deep as the local pool. My motto is: breathe deep and dive shallow.
“Most of my work is with available light. I seldom use video lights or electronic flash. It’s very different when you see the critters underwater in available light in the way the light plays over them.”
Brown said the water itself is a prime photographic subject for him because it is constantly changing. He said one of the photos he has in the Ebb and Flow show is called River Vortex, which depicts whitewater rapids, but underwater.
“The water is swirling around and is creating a vortex,” said Brown. “It’s what it looks like from a fish’s eye view underwater.
“I do videos of rapids, also, where the water is pouring over rocks and curving around. It’s just the motion of the water and the shapes that water takes that is just spectacular.”
Brown said he had read in a book about the dancing curvaceousness of nature, and to him, that’s water.
“It’s constantly curving and moving and dancing and flowing,” said Brown. “I can shoot 10 minutes in one place and every second is different.”
He said his work is his prime passion in life.
“My motto is immersing you in wonder, and my passion is immersing people in this amazing world, so they fall in love with it,” he added. “Then, then can act out of that love to protect.”
Riches in ditches
Brown said he and his partner have chosen to live in the qathet region because of the opportunities afforded in both the incredible freshwater and saltwater here. He said people can even photograph in ditches and get great images.
“There’s riches in them ditches,” said Brown.
With photography or videography, there is always an expense involved, but Brown said it can be reasonable. He said if people have action cameras, like GoPros, videographers can get some “amazing stuff” with them. However, even smartphones can take great images if they are in waterproof housings.
“I’ll show people how they can get some fabulous stuff just dunking it,” said Brown. “You don’t even have to get really wet. You can just wade along the shore somewhere and dunk that underwater. I’ll show them how to make images that make people go ‘wow, what is that?’ It’s right at your feet.”
Brown said the in-water event will be a hands-on session. He said he will have an underwater video camera that people can do some video with but it’s great if they have their own equipment so they can use it and get the most out of it.
People don’t need to make reservations for the show at the Tidal Art Centre. They can just show up to the free presentation.
If people are interested in the workshop, they can contact Brown directly to let him know they will be in attendance. They can ask about equipment, or Brown can answer any questions that they have. There is no specific charge for the workshop, but after it is over, people can voluntarily leave an honorarium for him if they so choose.
“I don’t want to keep people away who might not be able to afford coming,” said Brown. “The theme is: get out and get wet. Explore your local liquid.
“I like helping people to be aware. So much of life we go through and we’re not aware of who or what is around us and what is right in front of us. Part of my mission is to help people become aware, and then to make that connection.”
For workshop participants, a mask and snorkel is essential and having a wetsuit or drysuit will allow more comfort and longer immersion time. Children with adult supervision are welcome.
People can contact Brown at 604.414.7883, or by email at email@example.com. For examples of Brown’s video work, go to amphibiographer.tv, and for still photos, they can go to terrylbrown.com.
“Water is a magical mystery place,” said Brown.
Tehran unveils Western art masterpieces hidden for decades – CityNews Toronto
Fake psychics helped woman steal $180M in art from elderly mom, police say – Global News
A Brazilian woman was arrested Wednesday after police found that she orchestrated an elaborate scheme to defraud her elderly mother out of precious works of art.
Sabine Coll Boghici, 48, is accused of using a ring of fraudulent psychics to swindle her mother, Genevieve Boghici, 82, out of around 724 million reais, or $180 million, in art, jewelry and money, according to a statement by police in Rio de Janeiro.
Police say the racket began in January 2020, when Genevieve, the widow of renowned Brazilian art collector Jean Boghici, was contacted by someone claiming to be a psychic who had seen a vision of her daughter Sabine’s death.
The phoney psychic then introduced her to other seers, who used personal information provided by Sabine to convince the elderly woman that their claims were real. The ring of psychics used their leverage to get money out of Genevieve for “spiritual treatment,” in order to save her daughter from her prophesied death, according to NBC News and the BBC.
The suspects were later alleged to have physically threatened the elderly woman and Sabine eventually kept her mother confined to the house after she became suspicious of the scheme.
Sabine and a psychic then began to take artwork from Genevieve’s house and told her that the paintings were cursed with negative energy that needed to be “prayed over,” said police officer Gilberto Ribeiro, according to Reuters.
Eventually, Genevieve sought help from the police, who uncovered the scheme.
At least 16 paintings were stolen from the elderly woman, police said, including works from celebrated Brazilian artists Cicero Dias, Rubens Gerchman and Alberto Guignard.
Three of the stolen paintings were works by famed modernist Tarsila do Amaral. Those three paintings alone were worth a reported 700 million reais, or just under $175 million.
Police say they have recovered 14 of the stolen paintings, having found 11 during a raid of the home of one of the accused psychics and three that were sold to an art gallery in Sao Paulo. At least two paintings have yet to be recovered, though, including pieces that were sold to a museum in Buenos Aires.
A video posted on Twitter by a local media outlet shows the moment one of Amaral’s paintings, Sol Poente (which means setting sun), was found inside a bed frame hidden under a mattress.
At least seven people were involved in the years-long plot, Reuters reported. Police said four were arrested, including Sabine, on Wednesday but the others remain at large.
The accused are facing charges of embezzlement, robbery, extortion, false imprisonment and criminal association.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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