'Punching Ball' by Tunisian artist Faten Gaddes
Tunis - AFP
Protesters have damaged several works of art at an exhibition in Tunisia, in what appears to have been the latest in a series of attacks by Islamic religious hard-liners on liberal or secular targets.
A group of men broke into the venue in the northern suburbs of Tunis overnight Sunday-Monday, slashing several canvases and dismantling one art installation, said the show’s director Luca Luccatini.
Earlier Sunday, he said, several men believed to be ultraconservative Salafists had turned up presenting themselves as a lawyer and bailiffs and demanding that four works judged “offensive to sacred values” be taken down. “We called the police,” said Luccatini, “because their behavior was aggressive and they threatened to come back.”
Supporters of the art exhibition later faced off outside the gallery with a group of bearded men dressed in a manner associated with Salafists. The gallery was broken into after it had closed for the day.
As well as the paintings that were destroyed, Luccatini said, one installation, called “The Ring” – which showed the faces of Tunisian women, Jewish and Christian, painted on punching bags – was dismantled and removed.
He said he had filed a formal complaint over the incident, which he said smacks of “fanaticism.”
The Interior Ministry said police had seized four works that were attracting controversy in order to keep them safe. The Culture Ministry, while saying it supported freedom of creation, denounced what it said were “all kinds of aggression against sacred values” as presented in some of the works on show.
“I feel enormously angry,” said Lamia Guemara, one of the artists whose work was damaged. “It’s sad that we’ve come to this.”
Last month, Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri threatened to punish Salafist Muslims who push their views on others too hard, after radical Islamists forced a series of bars and shops selling alcohol to close.
Critics of the extremists have denounced the lack of action by the authorities in the face of the sometimes violent moves by Salafists.