Interview with the Tunisian artist Anis Ben Jemaa
Written by Cyrine Bettaleb Ali.
The pandemic has been a turn-off for the world, some have profited, and others have suffered. Anis is a young Tunisian artist who changed his practice. Being a student of interior design in Tunis, he spent the time of the pandemic, during lockdown, and curfew, meandering between his room and the roof of his house, smoking a cigarette. At one point, he took his canvases from his 9 m² room to the rooftop overlooking downtown Tunis. The city’s center is full of movement, action, and interaction, he simply spent time watching. he said that the chaos of my city is what drives him to transform what he sees and feels into a piece of art.
CBA: Why do you use large canvases for your paintings?
ABJ: I think that canvases are never big enough for what I want to convey, the ideas I have can lead me to draw for days straight without stopping. I would like to convey every grimace on every face I cross on the street during the day, the conversations of my neighbors and the colors of the laundry on the balconies and on the rooftops. These rooftops that date back to colonization are so ugly that I want to draw and paint on them to minimize this ugliness.
CBA: What’s the secret behind incorporating children into your creative process?
ABJ: When I feel that my head is empty and nothing inspires me and I don’t have the courage to hold a brush or a pencil anymore, I call my nephews, little cousins, I give them paint and admire them, sometimes I join them and draw together. I feel that this process awakens the little child in me; there he is with souls that understand him and can play with and express himself without thinking about judgments or perfection. The perfection that only the adult world has created, such a stupid invention that has pushed people to think that they are not creative, but the human being is creative enough by nature. It is the society that restricts them in pre-established boxes to define his role and his position. I draw with the child in me, I think it represents the most creative being I have ever met.
CBA: How did you get the idea to post your work on social networks?
ABJ: During the quarantine, I had the feeling that we were all crowded at home, I had lost my old habits and I didn’t see anyone anymore, I felt that the walls were shrinking. I wanted to teleport myself to a world where I would be happy and could express myself, finally that world was my canvas. But my room was too small for me and my canvas, so we took refuge on the roof of our house. The weather was good at that time, too good to be locked up at home. A week went by, and I found myself facing 5 or 6 canvases, I don’t remember. I was so amazed that I wanted to share this joy with others. How to do it? I will simply post what I do from where I create it and tell them that, in this obligatory solitude, there is a ray of sunshine that penetrates our minds and all you must do is to look for it.
CBA: What were the reactions of the audience?
ABJ: At the beginning, my audience was only my friends, my small community and at that time people were overexposed to social media and consumed much more content than usual which allowed my content to spread with incredible speed. I felt that there was something shared, this desire to consume content not related to the pandemic, that managed to flourish and allow them to escape. People started sharing, putting comments, and even sending me messages, until one day I woke up to a message from a gallery owner asking me if I wanted to show my work in their virtual gallery. And then I thought to myself ‘did I become an artist?’ And, YES, I am without doing it on purpose. I had only one desire when I started ‘transforming the chaos in me and speaking it’.