My liking for street art started long time ago in Mexico city. The amazing murals from Orozco, Siqueiros or Diego Rivera inspired my childhood and later the my parents’ passion for art took me to museums and cities all around the world where I learnt about the different ways to understand what “art” and “culture” stand for.
I’m not a writer (graffiti artist) and certainly cannot be called an expert, but I’ve learnt to enjoy even the more basic forms of it and, sometimes, even to read some of the messages behind. For the last couple of years, I’ve been adding a graffiti to my travel quests. From Reykjavik to Porto, this has allowed me to enjoy great street art, from big pieces to small details hiding behind a street sign or up in a wall.
But still, I didn’t expect to find great graffiti on my last trip to Tunisia.
My mistake! There is great graffiti in Tunisia
Just like in the picture on top of this post, I had not done enough research before planning my trip to Tunisia, and I assumed there wouldn’t be much of a street art movement there. Well, not such a big mistake as thinking there were pyramids but…
I had read of great artists like Paul Klee, who developed their color landmarks and produced their best known pieces when they traveled to Tunisia, but I forgot to look for other forms of art, assuming it would be banned or in places we couldn’t be traveling to.
Maybe some tags (yes, the signature like thing that annoys people from all around the world), throw-ups (a bit more complex than a tag but still not a masterpiece) or stickers (literally, stickers.) Instead this is what I found…
According to CityLab’s article The Rise of Graffiti Artists in the Suburbs of Tunis from Thessa Lageman, street art is often buffed (erased) and artists are often taken into arrest by police, so most of the murals you can see are legal (authorized by the owner of the wall).
But that doesn’t undermine the quality, neither the amazing projects, like collectively painting an old Boing 727 of Tunisair or transforming the beautiful town of Hara Sghira Er Rhiad in Djerba Island into an open sky museum called Djerbahood.
The hidden gem of Djerbahood
Back in 2014, a group of 150 artists from 30 different nationalities decided to transform the town of Erriadh, in the island of Djerba, into an open sky museum of street art. The village, a traditional Tunisian town welcomed the artworks in their white walls and has become one of the island’s must see for all sort of travelers.
From the outside, the town is just any regular Djerba town: one or two-floor houses with rounded shapes, white walls and blue doors. Calm people on traditional dresses, kids that go to school, some pottery shops by the road… But when you get inside and start looking around you will find beautiful pieces showcasing artists from every continent.
North American and European artists show some very interesting ways to use the walls of abandoned places and those of beautiful homes. But they are not the only ones to show a mastering art of spray cans and visual language.
Tunisian and other artists from many countries across Africa and South America, also show a very interesting visual language that is sometimes ironic and sometimes simply beautiful:
Where in the world can you find so many different ways to express urban art?
*All of the pieces in this article come from Djerbahood project in Tunisia, from my visit this year. They are not the only ones I saw there, nor in other parts of Tunisia.
Travel Tip: You can download a map with the location of all the original masterpieces here. Some of them have been damaged by the weather, others transformed with the years or even disappeared as the places they were placed on did too. But it is still an amazing trip to add to your bucket list.
Where to sleep in Djerba
For this trip we stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort & Thalasso, at Houmt Souk. A luxurious choice that we could afford because it was low season and tourists are avoiding Tunisia (and you shouldn’t). This is a great beach hotel with a great restaurant and SPA (I’m a bit against going to a swimming pool when you can swimm in the ocean but here they use sea water for treatments and the place is great.)
This is not the only reason why you should travel to Djerba, nor to the small town of Er Rhiad, like the shops with beautiful crafts and arts (with revamped and modern versions of the traditional Tunisian crafts that you can find at the zouks and markets) or the Friends of the Medina Festival that happens every year, or the beautiful Synagogue of Ghriba only a few kilometers away (with its own jewish pilgrimage taking place each year too).
**If you are looking for more graffiti and murals, I publish my favorite pieces at my Google+ Graffiti collection, check them out and share with me your favorite ones :)