A young curator in a blossoming young scene, spreading its wings little by little.
A list of memories. I don’t know what I would call an early art memory but I can list things that have driven my passion for art. The first was my mother’s office studio where I was constantly drawing with her pencils. I was stealing the coloured ones that lay next to her rolled up architectural plans in the back of her cabinets. The feeling of being in the studio, in front of those tools, was quite exciting to my younger self. Another vivid memory was when I saw Claude Monet’s “Camille” at the Kunsthalle Bremen. I felt like a little kid. Seeing a Monet for the first time, life size, was quite impressive for me, especially since I was used to studying these paintings, but only from books. This is the painting that first brought me closer to the aesthetic experience of perceiving colours, brush strokes, the details of the dress. I felt like I was getting closer to the artist himself through this empirical experience.
When studying interior design, I was super interested in museography and exhibition-making, which unfortunately were not taught in my design school. I knew that I was not made to work in a classic architecture studio where I would be executing ideas within a strict framework. So I tried to follow my interests, look for something that would combine exhibition making, writing, and help me maintain a social network around me. I got into curating through mediation, when I joined the team of the International Light Art Project, INTERFERENCE, at the age of 19. I was able to understand and find my own way of doing by observing the artistic directors and the team’s dynamics. It was when I knew that curating was a job that brought all of my interests together and matched with my sociable self.
Honing curatorial interests. The way I connect my personal curatorial interests to the missions of the organizations I work for stems from observing their structural differences. It allows me to answer some of the questions I have about the scene and face the challenges at hand. I would say that my curatorial interests are in the process of being built and shaped. I try to explore the art scene through encounters and by considering individual and collective identities. I tend to question these aspects based on my experience, the way I perceive things, and the interactions I have with each project carrier. What I find interesting is to cross path with artists in their studios, looking at different mediums, processes, work rhythms. To witness all of this is really nourishing. Whether it’s the institution, the gallery or the studio, each space has its own way of functioning while being part of the same scene. This allows me to refine my understanding of the needs and what we could bring.
When I work in theatre, it’s the performative aspect of writing that interests me. It has to do with the human who is multiple under the same flesh, who treats the context and the space by tracing it with their body, the scope of their voice or even with silence. The artistic experience differs but that’s what I find intriguing, to find analogies between the visual and performative arts.
On the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I think I’m somewhere in between, spontaneity can be very effective in a premeditated environment. I try to organise myself between setting objectives and leaving space for things that would emerge from the process. As I’m working on three projects at once, to keep all of them afloat is to understand their different demands and specific temporalities, while learning and doing. Some days will be like switching lives, three times a day, like a chameleon, running from theatre to artists’ studios to doing research. Other days are more loose, things move slower. My working hours vary from 7 to 18 hours a day. It really depends. I try to manage my schedule by arranging it like a puzzle.
Queer Theatre. I consider the arts as a fluid spectrum that could combine different disciplines. Theatre at this stage, is in my perception, a condensed of spatial, fictional, musical, dramaturgic writings. It is a way to navigate with all the senses included. Queer as a subject in Tunisia is quite problematic from a societal and a legal point of views. It’s a subject that has to be approached with a lot of caution, it’s fragile, and to put it on the table through an artistic production is a way to claim and give space for it and to see it from a plural perspective. Talking about it and working on it is already a step forward.
I never curate a show without building a strong bond with the team, I consider curatorial work as a super empathic job where you get into people’s shoes, get involved in several universes whether it relates to the artistic aspect, the technical one, logistics or finances. The dynamics are well rooted in the collective energy that everyone carries in every component of the project. So, I see exhibition-making as a floating boat driven by several hands and perspectives that will land on a common spot.
That’s what happened at Gabès Cinema Fen. I curated the video art section, K OFF, in a residential neighbourhood of Gabès, with young Tunisian artists, aiming at showing the visual perception of the multi-layered realities, lived and experienced by the artists, through video. It was my first exhibition and I had the support of an incredible team that accompanied me in passionate and fragile moments. We transformed the rooms and patio of a local small house into a white cube. We were keen to offer a formal space for artists to show their video works in the best conditions possible.
I feel at home when … I think home is a broader concept than the physical dimension of space. It could reside within an inviting moment, where my senses are embraced. When it smells good, feels warm and sunny, when I eat good food or when the energy is nice.
My go to piece of clothing is my pair of colourful Fushia Converse. They are casual, practical, they match my blue jeans or they add some light to my neutral outfits.
At this stage, I’m still trying to find a life-work balance. Sometimes, I need some moments alone. I do some yoga to recenter myself and be mindful about my surroundings and actions.
I have a pretty varied taste for food, but my winter dish would be a pumpkin Ojja. You need 1 pound of pumpkin, 2 fresh tomatoes, 1 bell pepper, 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate, 1 teaspoon of harissa, 1 teaspoon of garlic paste, salt and pepper, coriander, 1/2 dl of olive oil, and 4 eggs. Cook the tomato concentrate, the harissa and the garlic together in oil until brown, add the pumpkin cut into thin slices, season, and let simmer for a while. Halfway through cooking, add the tomatoes and the bell pepper cut into slices. When everything is well cooked, add the eggs one by one, reduce the heat, cover, and let it set for a few seconds. Bon appétit!
I think that the Tunisian scene is blossoming and spreading its wings little by little. I am witnessing a great number of artists and cultural actors dedicated to their practice, who are thinking about aesthetical and more global topics on different scales. New alternative structures are emerging and aiming to meet the needs of the local scene and, most importantly, artists are finding their voices and making them heard loud and clear.
If I had a magic wand, I think I would demystify borders in their broader definitions and eradicate precarity. That would open the art world as a leaflet, front and back, ease transmission and enhance consistency.
The book that still haunts me is “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by Patrick Süskind. It is a book that stays with me for its power to make me reach realistic sensations, for its accuracy, and the proximity the reader experience with the protagonist. The fact that it insinuates evil in a purely sensorial experience, impressed me writing-wise. It made me feel how easily the human is carried away once the words are carefully chosen and the story well-tailored. At the moment, I’m reading Donna Haraway’s “Staying With the Trouble”, which I find in sync with what I’m experiencing in relation to her key concepts, how she presents thinking with metaphors, invents new ways of representations and teaches to be present with trouble.
My musical inspiration comes from the nature of the activity I’m doing. When I’m doing research, it can easily move from Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin to Syrian tenor Sabah Fakhri. Sometimes, I’m too lazy to tailor a playlist so I just put NTS radio or fip, their choice of music is quite effective in boosting my energy. When I write or read, I’m more into Nils Frahm’s instrumental music, as I need the words I’m processing to ring in my head.
If I wasn’t curating I would be a hostess like Gertrude Stein, I would host meals and gatherings in this intriguing growing scene, talk about everything and nothing and witness the genesis of bubbling ideas through simple moments.
Salma Kossemtini (born in Tunis, 1996) is a curator with a background in interior design.
Her interest is rooted in contemporary art, sensory experience and their socio-cultural impact. Her practice also revolves around mediation with a focus on the audience experience.
She has been engaged in curatorial practice since 2016 in various local and international festivals such as INTERFERENCE.tn, SEE Djerba.tn both curated by Bettina Pelz and Aymen Gharbi, Evi Lichtungen.de and Lichtrouten.de, where she assisted curators and artists.
She’s an alumnus of Tasawar Curatorial Studios and a MA student in art theory. Her thesis is rooted in decolonial perspectives in Contemporary Art Practices.She curated her first exhibition in Gabes Cinema Fen Festival.tn for the video art section for young Tunisian artists “KOFF”, exploring the video as a medium defined through the featured artworks. She is currently working as a curator at the Selma Feriani Gallery managing the atelier and as a curatorial assistant of Nadine Atallah at the 32Bis a Contemporary Art Space in downtown Tunis and assistant director on a queer theater play.