Selma and Sofiane grew up in Tunis and trained as dancers there. Since they began creating works that were internationally widely performed, such as STOP….BOOM (2004) and Waçl (2007), they have been viewed from far and wide as figureheads of the contemporary Arabic dance scene.
A choreography such as Here(s) (2011), which they created in real-time via Skype, together with media artist Yacine Sebti, is no exception to that status. Nor is the success that they have enjoyed following a commission from the Tate Modern to create a work for a worldwide Internet audience, entitled Les Yeux d’Argos (2014). The traditional image of Arabic art, inevitably and endlessly reproduced for tourism, as a craft or inherited tradition, here makes way for contemporary practice, one that seeks loopholes in everyday social environments in order to create previously unseen public connections.
With Selma in Paris and Sofiane (back) in Tunis, that may as well be simple necessity. Although with them, the friction between creating art and living together stems from an integral artistic démarche. It is a choreographic performance based on age-old, ritual gestures of women potters in the Tunisian village of Sejnane, as well as the result of a group process that lasted several years, in which dance served to give back a worthy self-image to these women, as well as setting up the beginnings of self-organization for their community.
Their recent Le moindre geste (2017) is comparable, because of the importance of that group process. It evolved from a European collaboration between the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent, Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the FRAC Lorraine in Metz, with performances at Festival Passages in Metz, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, which has been following Selma and Sofiane for some time now.
For this project, they engaged with very diverse local communities in Metz, Brussels, and Ghent, in search of the revolutionary power of the small gesture to transcend social and linguistic barriers. Based on this, they created an installation with performance, illustration, and video, which allowed a broad public to come eye-to-eye with the life stories of fellow citizens living in the margins. The content of each performance is different because the deciding factor is always the specific local context. Selma and Sofiane moreover seek out precisely that feeling of empathy with what does not fit into the official narrative.
Dream City 2019
Selma and Sofiane Ouissi have conceived the 2019 edition of Dream City, as a civic and artistic parliament: a shared and protected space that offers a critical platform for rare forms of emancipation, and exchange between a diversity of African voices , who are key to developing new narratives and networks for the future of the continent. Crucial and unique to this parliament is that artistic transformation, coming from African artists that have all developed unique and widely diverging, but powerful and multi-disciplinary practices. This dynamic is at the heart of the project’s intended impact.
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