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Aris Ioannou Art

Jaou Tunis 2018

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When you land in Tunis, all the press materials are in a language you barely understand and despite everyone’s best efforts, you constantly end up lost, looking for places you never find. You’ll spend hours of research and late-night web searches, riding air-conditioned buses between scattered events, gathering as many stories from locals as you can, arguing with taxi drivers in a mix of English, French, and Arabic, stepping over an awful lot of dead cats, and running your fingers over exquisite carvings in ancient palaces. Despite all of this, what Tunis actually is (nonetheless how an international art festival might fit into it) remains as elusive as before you ever went.

Somewhere in the mix of friends and acquaintances, the newly met and sometimes haunting characters and strangers that make up the voyage, you try to get a sense of the atmosphere of a place you never imagined you’d see.

You find Tunisians to be warm and sad with a dark humor, the country crawling forward despite 2000 years of colonialism and more than a half century of dictatorship, its hope unbroken even if its spirit feels tired. In a car ride between parties at 3 a.m., a Tunisian sophisticate gives you a brief history of his country and somewhere in the narrative describes the first dictator after independence, however bad, as not the worst guy who ever ruled. He ends with the sentence, “Sometimes countries aren’t yet ready for democracy.”

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Art is not an entitlement. It’s a necessity of life.

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