In pictures: Chouftouhonna – a North African feminist festival

This unique arts festival began in 2015, in post-revolutionary Tunisia. This year it challenged patriarchy, gender roles, and class privileges.

Nora Silva
27 October 2017

Chouftouhonna festival.

Chouftouhonna festival. Photo: Narjes Chebbi. All rights reserved.

Chouftouhonna is a unique feminist arts festival, launched in 2015 as a grassroots initiative in post-revolutionary Tunisia. Created by and for women, this year it challenged gender roles, patriarchy – and class privileges.

The 2017 event was held in September, in the Tunisian National Theater, a palace in the working class neighbourhood of the medina, or old city, in Tunis. This location was chosen to send a message about class privileges, but also about the elite cis-male monopoly on the arts.

Chouftouhonna is the only festival of its kind in the region. This year it brought together more than 250 women and women-identifying artists from more than 50 different countries. There were exhibitions, screenings, live performances, workshops and lectures on feminist issues.

At the Chouftouhonna festival.

At the Chouftouhonna festival, on the roof. Photo: Ons Jalel. All rights reserved.

Jalila Baccar, one of the festival’s jury members, looks at the program on the roof of the Tunisian National Theater. The festival was attended by a diverse mix of people including artists and residents of the medina.

A percussion workshop was held on the roof. Two elderly local residents told one of the organisers that attending the festival was the first time they had ever entered the elite cultural venue.

Tunisian performance artist Gluco Mania.

Tunisian performance artist Gluco Mania. Photo: Ahlem Metoui. All rights reserved.

Tunisian performance artist Gluco Mania performed her first public project, "Chairy-tale" at the festival. A metaphor for human relationships told through her interaction with a chair, it received unanimous applause.

At Chouftouhonna’s fanzine workshop.

At Chouftouhonna’s fanzine workshop. Photo: Salma Agrebi. All rights reserved.

At one workshop participants produced “fanzines”, self-made magazines that are essential political, social and cultural tools in Tunisia today. Such independent media allows women to document feminist struggles as well as to claim space in the media that is rarely given to them.

The Italian artist Senith.

The Italian artist Senith. Photo: Chaima Sayeh. All rights reserved.

The Italian artist Senith performed her cabaret “Drag queer show" at the festival, challenging patriarchal domination and the criminalisation of people with non-normative sexualities. Her performance was the only one during which many audience members left the room, reflecting the need for such questioning.

At the football workshop.

At the football workshop. Photo: Salma Agrebi. All rights reserved.

Women in Tunisia have extremely limited access to sports and to football in particular, though they can be effective tools to challenge social and family pressure around gender roles. Jamie Zulauf led a women’s football workshop, where many participants played the sport for the first time. She worked with them on developing body confidence, and encouraged them to think of football as a mirror of society, and take their rightful place in it.

At a festival discussion.

At a festival discussion. Chaima Dridi. All rights reserved.

The festival also brought academics together including Nada Hasan, from Egypt, and Nidal Azhari, from Morocco, to discuss problems with the normative gendering of bodies, and ways to challenge this. In one session, panellists talked about Amazigh matriarchal societies, and Nubian societies of Egypt, among other things.

At the last session of the festival.

At the last session of the festival. Photo: Chaima Sayeh. All rights reserved.

Nicoletta Nesler, Italian director of the film Lunàdigas, winner of a festival prize for cinema, at Chouftouhonna's final discussion. The group conversation “started off with more conceptual issues such as representations of violence and differences of fiction and documentary ... [and] ended with artists getting to their more personal stories, recounting episodes of violence they experienced within their families," said facilitator Anna Antonakis.

At the festival's closing ceremony.

At the festival's closing ceremony. Photo: Narjes Chebbi. All rights reserved.

At the festival’s closing ceremony, actors Wissal Labidi, Marwa Mannai and Nesrine Mouelhi paid tribute to the late Tunisian actor and director Raja Ben Ammar – who was also director of the Mad'Art Carthage space, which hosted the first two editions of Chouftouhonna. They recalled how she had always pushed them to ask questions.

* This is an edited version of a photo essay first published on Awid.org.

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