Salafis’ art show riot reflects religious divide in the new Tunisia

June 27, 2012

(A general view of the Abdeliya Palace, which is closed by authorities, in Tunis June 27, 2012.REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi )

The artist agreed to be interviewed but asked not to be named. Picking up a piece of work vandalised by Islamist zealots at a recent arts fair in a suburb of Tunis, she said: “Don’t describe it or people will know who I am.”

Tunisian artists have gone to ground since Salafi Islamists broke into Abdeliya Palace on June 10 and destroyed a handful of works at the Printemps des Arts fair to protest against art they deemed insulting to Islam, then ran riot for days.

One of the most controversial works on display was an installation depicting veiled women as punching bags. Another showed veiled women in a pile of stones, a comment on the stoning of adulteresses in Islam. The work that caused most anger spelt the words “Sobhan Allah” or “Glory to God” in ants.

While condemning the violence, which killed one person, the culture and religious affairs ministers also criticised the artists for crossing the shifting limits of free expression.

Tempers have since calmed. But the incidents were the latest to raise fears among secular intellectuals that the freedoms won when last year’s revolt ousted secular dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali are slowly being circumscribed by religious mores imposed by zealots, not the once-feared police.

Read the full story by Lin Noueihed here.
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