Rafram Chaddadby Alison Roberts | 28.11.16
Djerba born, Jerusalem raised, artist Rafram Chaddad returned to his native Tunisia, finding reprise from the challenges faced by artists working exclusively in the West. Crediting Tunis for its cheap rents and vibrant artistic community, Chaddad’s love for the city cannot be concealed.
Paying tribute to the history of Tunisian-Jewish culture in the region, Chaddad continues the legacy of traditional craft, encompassing the many facets of culture in the process. Rooted in the past, his works exemplify the here and now, repairing the dichotomy between cultural revival and contemporary creation. Endowed with a life of it’s own, each piece is a product of modernity, “to be able to elaborate with people around you. To understand the context of your life, this is art.”
Fish in, Fish Out. Image courtesy of the artist.
Conscious of the many worlds he inhabits, the worlds he moves between, Rafram distinguishes between his art and the classical Tunisian crafts from which he draws inspiration. In Fish In, Fish Out, Chaddad elaborates on the Tunisian ritual of fish painting—a means of protecting one’s home from the evil eye. Replicating the process abroad—such as in a gallery—“[it’s] completely different”. Created with the same materials, actualized by the same individual, context becomes the determining factor between ritual and art.
Pkeila. Image courtesy of the artist and the ACC Gallery, Weimar.
In Pkeila, a glass box filled with spinach is mounted on a wooden pedestal. A microcosm of his childhood, the leaves fly freely, illuminated. One of the most central dishes of Jewish-Tunisian cuisine, Pkeila remains rooted in the nostalgia of Chaddad’s lineage. At the same time, the leaves point to contemporary life in Tunis, to the marketplace and to the streets.
Bab Ma7rouk. Image courtesy of the artist, and KIT Dusseldorf.
Reflecting on the survival of Tunisia’s architectural tradition, Bab Ma7rouk pays homage to the grand entryways of La Goulette. Inspired by a conversation between Chaddad and a taxi driver, the work sets a tone of urgency, perhaps against the threat of the homogenous modern edifice. Reimagining the structure’s replica, Chaddad has removed each nail, replacing it with a wooden matchstick.
In front of the grand door itself, Chaddad has created a video work, along with musicians Achref Chargui and Mohamed Wassef Jridi, who play the tune of Bab Darek against a setting sun. Never fully visible, the musicians become increasingly obscured by darkness; the video ends, their presence no longer traceable.
The topic of Israelis—artists in particular— leaving the country to live and work has been the cause of debate for decades. “There are artists who move to Germany because they have a European passport. This is a bit similar.” Similar, yet different. Not only has Chaddad maintained his Tunisian citizenship and native Arabic, he grew up as a first generation immigrant; the connection was never fully extinguished.
Chaddad’s experience challenges our perceptions, and while his situation remains unique, it provides an opportunity to re-imagine our perception of the world. “Tunisia, it’s an Arab country. It’s supposed to be the enemy. People always ask me if it’s safe, which is very strange coming from Israelis”.
“I live in front of the sea, I eat fish everyday…some people think that artists are supposed to create from hunger, but I don’t believe that.” I ask Chaddad if he has found an oasis of sorts in Tunis. He declines. “No place is perfect. It’s all about balance”.
Visit Chaddad’s website here.