Sunday, 19 July 2009

Fatma Charfi | Tunisia/Switzerland

Fatma Charfi the Artist.

Here are a series of images, which are a tongue-in-cheek look at the idea and difficulties posed by Swiss neutrality - the heartland of the United Nations based in Geneva.

How can I best describe this artist? Those that have met her have been merely amazed. Amazed at her energy, her enthusiasm, her love for the life around her and I am no different. To understand Fatma is to understand her work and once understood one can't help but be impressed. The pace. The constant flow of ideas. The respect she gives herself and her work. The endless possibilities within art and a clear representation of what a true contemporary artist should be. She is regarded by her peers as a maverick in a world of mavericks. Understand her work and you cannot help but be inspired. When I met her a few years ago now, in Switzerland she was working on a Rap Song. Her ideas are everywhere. Spending the day with her was exhausting and a wonderful experience.

In 1991, the time of the first Iraq War she created figerines that are actually present in her head-dress. She refers to these figures as the "Abroucs". She has taken this subject and developed this idea over 18 years. What is becoming remarkable is her loyalty and committment to her subject. Her work should be seen as a life's work each different Abrouc strand is another thread to the rich tapestry that is Fatma Art. In a world that is seemingly speeding up Fatma is just taking her time. I have enormous respect for this artist and her work as she has truely earnt it.

Fatma Charfi is a Tunisian artist born in Sfax Tunisia in 1955. She now lives in Bern Switzerland. After graduating from the Fine Arts College, Les Beaux Arts in Tunisia, she attended an internship in cartoon animation in Poland 1977 and second one at the “Ecole Supérieure d`Art Visuel de Genève” 1986 – 1991. Fatma Charfi holds a PhD she gained in 1980-1985 from the Sorbonne’s “Institut d`Esthétique et des Sciences de l`Art" Paris, France.

Through complex installation, sculpture and performance works, Charfi explores the problem of Diaspora. Her work investigates the complexity of displacement, of being a North African woman living in Swiss society. She uses photographs, sculpture and installations to express herself. War has largely influenced her work. During the Gulf War, which she watched on Swiss television, she began to make black Gulf War figurines that she spread over powdered marble. The figurines have spindly appendages that extend outward from a central body and represent all of the people killed in the war. The insect-like forms suggest that the war reduced humanbeings to nothing more than insignificant insects. She describes the figurines as shadows of all people, as they have no faces and no sexes. Au-dessis, one of Charfi`s pieces that incorporates the figurines, shows them inside clear plastic storage compartments. The compartments represent Swiss society and societies in general, pigeon-holing and boxing people in and never allowing them to be themselves.

She has exhibited widely across Europe and North Africa, including the International Contemporary Art Biennale, Alexandria, Egypt 1999, the Dak'Art Biennale, Dakar, Senegal 2000/2002/2004, the Sculpture Triennale, Berne, Switzerland 2002, and the Centre d`Art contemporain Santander, Spain 2002.

Fatma is the first woman to have been awarded the first prize at the Dak'Art Festival in Senegal and what is more impressive is that she has been awarded this prize twice in 2000/2002 and was runner-up in 2004.

2000/2002/2004: Leopold Sédar Senghor Prize, Dakar International Biennial of Contemporary Art Senegal
1999: Jury Prize, Contemporary Art Biennale Alexandria, Egypt

© Joe Pollitt, 2009

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