Mouna Karray’s art sits within the intimate space of the Tyburn Gallery in Central London. Her art captures fascinating images of bodies enslaved in white sheets, randomly yet strategically placed in desolate places, embodying a silent resistance and a desire to be heard.
In her collection ‘No body will talk about us‘ Karray takes us on a road trip to her south western roots in Tunisia, travelling on dusty lands that reveal images of a lifeless desert that once was and is now no more. The viewer’s attention is arrested by body movements that occupy enslaved and entangled spaces pushing against confinements that remind me of the history of the African slavery. The strong images are haunting, laborious, and perplexing. Masculine bodies linger in desolate, dusty spaces revealing a people’s resilience that has as much potential as the poverty that surrounds them. I am reminded of my travels in Northern Ethiopia and Egypt. In her first UK solo art show, the artists shares a collection that has long been in the making, with its first residency at the Dream City Biennial of Contemporary At in Public Space in Tunis in 2012.
On the opening night of the collection, the artist’s warm introvert character is observable, Karray is reserved and shy, her conversation is whispery, the depth of her personality played out in the drama that she creates in her art work.
Oh, but the world will talk about Tunisia, a country that gave birth to female artists and allowed them to flourish because that is the right thing to do. A country appraised for its reasonable stability even after Arab Spring waves.
On the opening night, I strike a conversation with a Tunisian woman who sheds light on the country’s history. It is said that the Tunisian first President, Habib Bourguiba, who fought against French colonialism focused on women’s emancipation, health and education and in doing so fostered an educated nation that is today proud of its identity. When Bourguiba died, he did not have a house or a car in his name, which speaks to his dedication to the country and public service, a rarity in our modern days. Tunisians have always had a light take on the role religion in their everyday lives, she adds.
With this historical background of equality, Tunisian women therefore played an equal role in the Tunisian revolution. Women were very much visible in street demonstrations, many occupying high level positions in law and journalism and therefore shaping the Tunisian narrative of freedom and equality. This stability however remains very fragile in the wake of new global threats.
Mouna Karray’s art speaks to the hard issues encompassing our everyday lives and reveals the variances that are possible within a nation. She is busy shaping the Tunisian narrative, whilst shedding light on that, that has been forgotten. This collection is as much about the everyday lives of the people of south west Tunisia, as it is about her journey, and with each image she seeks to remind us again and again of the social and cultural values embedded in her fellow Tunisians.
Through Karray’s art, we learn so much about her country Tunisia, and that a country’s history and progress is best measured by its progress in women’s development and freedom of expression through art.
I am grateful to the Tyburn Gallery and to Ms Ihsen Fekih for her insights onto Tunisian history and to the artist, Mouna Karray for allowing us into her artistic space.
Published with permission from Mouna Karray.
The Tyburn Gallery features work by African artists
The gallery is located in St Christophers Place, London
Director of Tribal Sands, May 2016