For a Leaderless Revolution, a Monument with No Curator: A Walk Through Imed Trabelsi’s Looted Villa
- Published on Thursday, 12 July 2012 07:46
- Category: Art
Want to understand what the Tunisian revolution meant, and where it came from? Put down the book you’re browsing and book a ticket for Tunis; then proceed directly to Hannibal Street. If that isn’t a possibility, here’s a photographic tour of an unparalleled monument to Revolution: a ruined (or better, reclaimed) villa, converted into a crowd-sourced art gallery of social protest.
The rage which fueled the 2011 Revolution for Dignity was not merely directed towards Ben Ali, the nation’s long-running dictator, but also towards his wife, Leila Trabelsi, and the mafia-style dealings of her family. The result: gross social inequality, particularly in the face of economic troubles. The Trabelsi family came to symbolize the abuses of the Ben Ali regime, and as the Revolution unfurled, demonstrators took over city streets— and also the vast property holdings of the corrupt regime.
Such is the case with Imed Trabelsi’s converted villa on Rue Hannibal in a chic suburb of Tunis. Imed, Leila’s favored nephew, was notorious for behaving with impunity, stealing international yachts and controlling the country’s building industry. A youth-led revolution had other visions for civic construction. A tour of the converted space reveals the dynamics at play behind Tunisia’s pioneering 2011 Revolution, a new-found sense of civic pride, and uniquely Tunisian visions of a better future. In this case, the images— as they were meant to— speak for themselves.
Despite covering the entire villa with graffiti and destroying its contents, no other homes in the neighborhood were looted— demonstrating the localized rage Tunisian youth felt towards the Trabelsi clan, as well as the civility of the uprising.
Graffiti on the outside wall declares, “Hannibal proved that nothing was impossible…the Tunisians also.” The Revolution that inspired the world is also seen as emanating from the uniqueness of Tunisia’s place in global history.
Upon arriving at the front door, visitors are greeted by graffiti messages on entrance pillars: “Welcome to your house,” and “Please leave the house the way you found it.” Looters did not merely intend to destroy the symbols of the regime, but moreover, as the graffiti tells us, this was an act meant to reclaim the people’s resources— and to enshrine the action in collective memory.
Every space within the villa has been covered with Revolutionary messages, in nearly every language. Images and slogans written in Arabic, Italian, French, German, Spanish and English bear witness to the pride of youth in the cosmopolitan nature of this tiny North African nation.
Amid slogans calling for others to “rise up” and defy capitalism, a protester-artist has written, “This is not a house; it’s an art gallery.”
Incredibly, a year and a half after the Revolution that toppled Ben Ali, the looted villa of Imed Trabelsi still stands, and is left entirely open for the public to visit. Although discarded beer bottles and cigarette butts do evidence the house’s occasional use as a party spot, its graffiti has been left untouched; transients have not taken up permanent residence, nor has the government chosen to demolish it.
The so-called Arab Spring inspired by Tunisia has not gone unnoticed in Europe. Here, a (presumably) French visitor has scrawled a message to the Tunisian people: “Thank you, Tunisians, for showing us the way—Sarko (Sarkozy), Get out!!”
Phenomenally beautiful works of art mingle with straightforward slogans, as well as sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek orders: “I don’t like you anymore!”
Many artists signed their work; some even left links to their Facebook pages.
Political slogans are not the only messages left on the Trabelsi’s walls: jokes and sarcastic thank-you notes often appear as well. Jaye writes, “Thanks, Imed, I adore tagging your house!”
Specific demands blanket the walls of the Trabelsi home. This stencil depicts a nude woman, covering her breasts, with the Arabic phrase, “freedom of expression.”
Nothing was spared in the rage of the protestors— rather than stealing cars and television sets, they’ve been covered in anti-RCD (the ruling political party) graffiti, comments against Ben Ali, and have thus become masterpieces of installation art and social protest.
Famous artists from the Tunisian revolution, such as graffiti artist Willis, took part in decorating the new people’s monument, as did anonymous demonstrators and upcoming artists.
A recurrent slogan, reappearing in multiple corners of the villa, reads: “love, glory and beauty in a world that they have created.” The “C” in created has been formed from a Star and Crescent, the symbol of Islam, but also the central emblem on the Tunisian flag.
The re-imagined Trabelsi villa provides a compelling read of the visions young Tunisians have for the future of their nation. This phrase blends the phrases, “Islamic” and “Secular,” translating to “The Islamic-Secular Republic of Tunisia.”
The images from the ruined Trabelsi villa testify to the bright future facing Tunisia’s youth, despite the problems remaining. Humor, creativity, cultural consciousness and passion are literally written on the walls; for the famous Revolution with no leader, the re-imagined villa has become a house for the people—a Revolutionary museum with no Curator.By Amanda Rogers, Aslan Media Contributing Writer