Hirafen is the fifth edition of Talan L’Expo, a cultural project promoting contemporary art in Tunisia and initiated ten years ago by Behjet Boussofara (director of Talan Tunisia) and Aïcha Gorgi (executive director of Talan L’Expo). It is a group exhibition that offers a unique dialogue between visual art and Tunisian textiles craft through 19 multidisciplinary artists. From different origins and generations, these artists have been invited to draw on the craft of thread and fibre weaving to create specific works of art as part of a research and production residency in Tunisia.
From the northern regions to the south, encompassing cities, villages, public spaces, and domestic settings, both men and women have long engaged in the timeless practices of weaving, embroidering, and braiding natural fibers sourced from the local landscape—utilizing materials like natural wool, alfa, sea rush, palm leaves, among others. These enduring techniques yield objects that exhibit a rich array of materials, colors, and patterns, each echoing distinct techniques and skills reflective of their respective regions. Within their individual artistic practices, each artist has cultivated a unique approach by exploring various dimensions—be it aesthetic, ecological, geographical, economic, or social—linked to an intangible heritage characterized by a nonlinear history brimming with influences, progressions, and transformations.
One of the curators of the exhibition is Ludovic Delalande, an art passionate based in Paris. He has been invited to curate Hirafen, which is on view until March 20, 2024, and as the exhibition goes on, KHAMSA interviewed Ludovic on Tunisian craftsmanship and the beauty of art curation.
The exhibition provides a platform for artists and artisans to engage in meaningful dialogue, pushing against established boundaries and prompting reflections on collaborative efforts in creative endeavours. As knowledge continues to be transmitted and reimagined, these timeless gestures persist, safeguarding an ever-vibrant collective memory. In Hirafen, the diverse voices contributing to this exhibition expand the narrative, offering a glimpse into the multiplicity of perspectives shaping this profound link between artistry and heritage.
١. What inspired you to pursue a career in art curation, and what path did you take to become an art curator?
I grew up in Paris, and I’ve been visiting museums and exhibitions since my childhood. I’ve always been fascinated by these places of history and knowledge. I am still loving the feeling you get when you enter a museum or in an exhibition. It’s always been exhilarating to let yourself be surprised, to contemplate and reflect.
I always knew I’d work in the cultural field. At first, I was more interested in ancient and modern art, so I began by studying literature, then history and art history at the Sorbonne university. It was then that I discovered contemporary art. I began to push open the doors of contemporary art galleries and museums that presented art by living artists. I immediately wanted to be part of this dynamic, and it was at this point that I decided to work with artists around contemporary creation. Thus, I finished my studies with a master’s degree in curatorial studies and I started doing internships in museums and galleries.
٢. Could you describe your role as an art curator and the responsibilities it entails?
For a curator of contemporary art, the role can be plural and take different forms depending on the artist, the format, the context and the subject. Curating contemporary art is a job you learn on the job, by experimenting and looking. Nothing is fixed or defined, I am still learning and discovering every project.
For me, the curator is a kind of intercessor between the artist and their work and the public. Producing a thought process that’s relevant to today’s world and sharing it with the public. Artists have the ability to show us other ways of seeing the world. I really enjoy working closely with artists and supporting them in the development of their projects. It definitely opens up new perspectives and new ways of thinking.
٣. We would love to hear more about Hirafen. What is the exhibition about?
Hirafen is a contemporary art exhibition fostering a unique dialogue between visual art and craftsmanship. Nineteen artists have been invited to create bespoke artworks inspired by Tunisian weaving and braiding expertise. Each one has been free to develop its own approach of the Tunisian craft, sometimes in collaboration with craftspeople. Gathering multidisciplinary artists coming from different origins and generations has been essential to enrich the exhibition’s narrative and to explore the richness and diversity of Tunisian craft. In fact, this intangible heritage is not limited to techniques and savoir-faire, or shapes, materials and colours, as it opens up on social, historical, economical, political, territorial, environmental and ecological considerations. Beyond crafts and art, this exhibition is about Tunisia.
٤. Artists were invited to explore Tunisian weaving and braiding expertise, could you tell us more about that process? What inspired the focus on this particular artistry for Hirafen, and how did you initiate this creative process?
Craftsmanship is fully part of the Tunisian society, its past, its present, its future. Ceramic, glass, metal, wood, vegetal fibres, wool, etc., craftsmanship encompasses a multiplicity of skills, forms, techniques, colours, materials and geographies. This project was precisely the opportunity to focus on one area in particular. From embroidery to basketry, from rugs to traditional costume-making, Tunisian weaving and braiding craft is indisputable. This plurality and diversity have been a fertile source of inspiration for artists.
When I started working on the exhibition, I realized that it’s impossible to understand craftsmanship from a distance, and books can’t show you the reality of craftsmanship, its richness, and its stories. You have to go out and meet the craftsmen and women who make them, on their land, in their homes, in their intimacy. Considering that, I felt the need to create a suitable context for the artists, and the principle of a residency in Tunisian territory became obvious. Each residency has been specific to each artist according to his/her project. During this research and production time, those artists explored the rich diversity of this craft, collaborating with embroiderers, weavers, braiders, and textile artisans. It has been challenging as craftspeople are not accustomed to collaborating with artists. A mediation work was therefore required to ensure that everyone could understand each other or at least talk to each other. For both artists and artisans, this project was an opportunity to take a step aside, break with their habits, and explore new ways of thinking and producing.
٥. Do you have any advice for young art curators?
Be curious and open-minded to let yourself be surprised.
Hirafen is the 5th edition of Talan L’Expo and is on view until March 20, 2024, Atelier Centre 3T, Denden, Tunis (Tunisia) – to learn more about Hirafen, visit here.