The CMES Working Group on Film and Visual Arts in a Changing Middle East is pleased to present an exhibit by Tunisian political cartoonist _Z_, on view at CMES from November 12 through May 31, 2014, Monday-Friday, 9:00am–5:00pm.
Dubbed “the Zorro of the Tunisian Web," world-renowned Tunisian political cartoonist _Z_ was one of the most influential players in the opposition to former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and has played role in domestic Tunisian politics that has, in many ways, had more impact on the country than many of Tunisia’s politicians.
As an anonymous blogger, _Z_ was deeply involved in opposition to Ben Ali’s decades-long autocratic rule in the North African country. Until he launched his blog DEBATunisie.com in 2007, no artist had dared to publicly mock Ben Ali; _Z_’s satirical cartoons and articles made him one of the most wanted targets of Tunisian secret services. Several activists mistakenly thought to be the cyber-dissident were arrested and interrogated in 2009 and 2010. _Z_’s anonymity allows him to avoid self-censorship: “Like this I have no red line inside me. I am the only Arab cartoonist totally free in my art”
(The Economist, November 23, 2011).
Government censorship of DEBATunisie.com merely fueled the public’s interest in his work. In a bestselling anthology of his drawings, published in Tunisia in November 2011, _Z_’s editor calls him “one of the true heroes of the Tunisian revolution.”
_Z_ has also used the influence of his widely-read cartoons to make Tunisia a better place. In 2009 his denouncement of a corrupt tourist project in the Zembra Island helped to save the local ecosystem. And his criticism of Sama Dubaï’s work in Tunisia contributed to ending its industrial projects and an unethical partnership with Ben Ali’s inner circle, “les hommes mauves” (“the men in purple”).
Today, _Z_’s blog has a devoted readership and more than 38,000 people worldwide follow him on Facebook. His cartoons have been featured in the Moroccan weekly Tel Quel, the French dailies Le Monde.fr and Liberation, French news website Rue89.com, Spanish daily El Mundo, and the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
_Z_ still blogs anonymously as he continued to denounce anti-democratic practices under the post-revolutionary Islamist-led government. He faced constant criticism from government supporters who reproached his work as obscenity and a defamation of Islam. After the Islamists stepped down, _Z_ continued to keep the newly appointed technocratic government in check. As of today, he remains one of the strongest and most vocal voices in Tunisia’s civil society.
This exhibition of fifteen works from _Z_’s expansive catalogue reveals the evolution of his thought chronologically: beginning with his June 2010 skewering of then President Ben Ali in “Online ‘art activism’ classes,” and his prophetic image of the Ben Ali family fleeing Tunisia more than six months before their actual departure took place, and ending with the recently published “La Tunisie entre Deux Choix…” highlighting the unfortunate predicament in which the people of Tunisia currently find themselves—having to choose between Islamism and authoritarianism.
Contact: Elizabeth Flanagan
Sponsors: Made possible with support from the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Dean of the Division of Social Science, and the Donald T. Regan Lecture Fund.