We’re back on air this week across London on 104.4FM, and online elsewhere broadcasting weekly on Wednesdays 9–9:30pm, repeating on Fridays 3.30pm GMT.
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This week’s radio show focuses on a new Tunisian gallery, El Marsa, opening in Dubai, at the heart of the arts district in Al Quoz. Al Quoz is an industrial area in the centre of Dubai that has over the years burgeoned into a buzzing district of arts, commerce and culture. We spoke to the gallery director Moncef Msakni about the new gallery, the old one and the current exhibition at Al Serkal.
We had visited El Marsa for an opening in Tunisia in 2015 and were more than pleased to see they’d branched out to Dubai, being the sole gallery to represent Maghrebi artists in the city. El Marsa had shown before at the region’s biggest art fair, Art Dubai in 2013 as well as Abu Dhabi, Paris, Marrakech and Miami, forging many ties in the process as people strove to find out more about Tunisian artists and the arts scene there in general. In a very different setting from their Tunis gallery, the new branch opening with a show of Jameel Art Prize winner, the Algerian artist Rachid Koraichi. Moncef Msakni discusses in this week’s show his lifelong relationship with Tunis resident Koraichi, who knew the curator’s father.
We had interviewed Koraichi on the eve of his winning the Jameel Arts Prize (sometimes called the Islamic Turner Prize) in 2012 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and were fascinated to see his works in steel. His prize winning pieces had been banners of embroidered cloth that filled a large room at the Victoria and Albert Museum like ethnic, tribal totems. The works in El Marsa however were hard and definite physical manifestations that stood on the floor, dividing up the room. The sculptures were however derivatives of the two dimensional abstractions Koraichi had worked with on cloth all those years ago. Msakni explains in this Six Pillars interview the complicated way the material employed by Koraichi is created and what the sculptures represent to himself and the artist.
The original branch of El Marsa gallery is a charming space in the heart of La Marsa, by the historic palace of El Abdalliya Essoughra and Saf Saf, one of the oldest and prettiest cafes in Tunis, and which pleasantly spills out onto the street. El Marsa has an impossibly small and ancient door, that is overlooked by the square and cafe. It is hard to imagine the atmosphere in Tunisia, ordinarily such a clement and accessible holiday destination that relies heavily on tourism for its GNP, after a second attack on tourism and tolerance in the country in a year.
El Marsa history
Founded in 1994 in Tunis with the aim to promote artists from the Arab world and beyond, the gallery’s rosta embraces artists using an array of mediums including painting, sculpture, photography and installation. The artists are mainly Tunisian but also represent both the country’s borders and regional links. El Marsa states its aim is to “engage with artists who emphasise a shared sense of humanity and emotion, highlighting a variety of coexisting attitudes and strategies in contemporary art.“