Youth for Climate Tunisia: Empowering Change through Art and Activism

Youth for Climate Tunisia: Empowering Change through Art and Activism

7 min read  —  Sep 05, 2023

by Eya Rziga

Dear maft readers, as you know, we have always held a close interest in sustainability and the protection of our environment. Today, we are thrilled to bring you an exclusive on this weekend’s must-attend art event about the climate crisis: "Nature in Peril: A visual journey through the climate crisis" by Youth For Climate Tunisia at the Central Tunis Art Gallery. 

This event, organized by Rihem Akari, project manager of the Exhibition, and Fourat Kandil, a climate activist from Youth For Climate Tunisia, promises to be an extraordinary artistic affair. 

The exhibition aims to shed light on the pressing environmental challenges faced by Tunisia, and the planet as a whole, through the creative lenses of both local and international artists.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Rihem and Fourat to discuss their motivations, the challenges they face, and their hopes for the impact of the exhibition. Here's what they had to say.

The Birth of a Movement

Tell me about the birth of Youth for Climate Tunisia and its purpose?

Youth For Climate Tunisia was born in August 2019, inspired by the global rise of environmental advocacy led by figures such as Greta Thunberg. The movement took root in Kerouane with a protest and later spread to Tunis, the capital, on September 25, 2019. The response was unexpected and overwhelmingly positive, with many future partners attending. This support led to the launch of our association and projects to defend our cause.

The vision of Youth For Climate Tunisia is to create a more sustainable future for the country by addressing the multiple climate challenges faced by Tunisia, such as access to water, receding coastlines, industrial pollution, and their impacts on minorities. Our mission is to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for necessary changes through various initiatives like protests, collaborations with other civil society organizations, educational booklets, art Exhibitions, and climate education projects.

Nature in Peril: A Journey Through Climate Crisis

Tell me about the event theme and program, artists included.

Rihem, the project manager, was inspired to organize an art exhibition after attending the COP27 in Egypt, where she was captivated by art installations and 3D exhibits.

‘The idea was to use art as a tool to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts.The exhibition will feature works from a diverse group of both international and local artists, each bringing a unique perspective on the climate crisis. The eight artists involved in the exposition are:

Zied Ben Romdhane: A Magnum Photos (NY) nominee who switched from commercial to documentary photography. His work has been featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Hichem Driss: A photographer who works between Paris and Tunis and founded the Barguellil studio. He has collaborated with renowned photographers and worked in fashion, design, and architecture.

Skander Khlif: A Munich-based documentary photographer who documents life in public spaces while retaining a note of mystery. He is a recipient of the Photomed Awards and winner of the Italian street photography festival.

Jilani Ben Cheikh: A photographer known for his distinct black and white style. He was the official photographer for the 48th International Festival of Douz in 2015 and has showcased his work at international festivals.

El Seed: A contemporary artist who melds painting and sculpture to convey messages of peace and highlight human commonalities. He received the Unesco Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture in 2017 and the International Award for Public Art in 2019.

Astrid: A Tunisian DJ and artistic director who has performed at illustrious stages like Les Dunes Electroniques and Fairground. She has also shared the limelight with renowned artists such as La Fleur, Habibi Funk, Adam Port, and SAMA.

Saba Hamzah: A feminist poet-scholar, writer, and educator who focuses on knowledge production, memory, social justice, and transitional justice through a decolonization lens.

Oumaima Bouzaiene: A 3rd-year 3D animation major with a passion for illustration who is dedicated to addressing social and environmental issues through her art.

Unfortunately, Zied Ben Romdhane won't be attending due to another Exhibition in Washington, but we have an art piece by him set to be showcased. The Ministry of Ecology also gave permission to showcase a project they worked on. It took a lot of research to find the right artists that align with our theme, and we believe that the works of these artists will contribute significantly to the narrative of the exhibition.

What inspired the title “Nature In Peril: A Visual Journey to the Climate Crisis” and which pieces can we look forward to seeing?

The title was carefully chosen after extensive research to find something that was not only easy and catchy, but also engaging and reflective of the urgency of the situation we are facing. Nature is, indeed, in peril, and this exhibition aims to take its viewers on a visual journey through the many facets of the climate crisis.

 It is not just a collection of individual pieces of art, but a carefully curated journey that tells a story about the climate crisis, its impacts on Tunisia and the world, and the possible ways forward. Each piece of art, from the photographs of the fires in Sejnane by Hichem Idriss to the sound installation by Astrid, contributes to this narrative and helps to create a comprehensive and impactful visual journey for the attendees.

A Different Perspective

How does the Tunisian perspective on climate change differ from the global narrative?

Our approach to climate activism is more aggressive and direct compared to other regions. Activists are vocal in addressing the government, even though the general public is still somewhat dismissive of the crisis, attributing it to divine will rather than human impact. This contrasts with regions like Latin America, where activists attack the system and assert themselves in speeches, and Egypt and Jordan, where protests are not permitted.

There is a significant lack of action and awareness about the climate crisis in Tunisia. Many are skeptical, often using religion to dismiss scientific consensus on climate change. This skepticism hinders mobilization efforts and, coupled with the government's reluctance to declare a climate emergency, underscores the challenge faced by activists and organizations striving to address the crisis. Despite passionate advocacy by some, broader public sensitization and education are urgently needed.

The Youth Leading the Charge

Why is it crucial for youth-led movements like “Youth For Climate Tunisia” to take the forefront in climate change discussions?

Youth-led movements like "Youth For Climate Tunisia" are important in leading climate change discussions because we represent the future that is most impacted by today's decisions. We bring fresh perspectives, innovative solutions, and a different approach that addresses intersectional issues like social justice and gender inequality. 

Our energy, passion, and determination drive us to create positive change without being hindered by bureaucracy or conflicted interests. We actively work towards a sustainable future by organizing protests, creating educational materials, and advocating for policy changes.

Beyond this exhibition, what other initiatives is “Youth For Climate Tunisia” pursuing to address the climate crisis?

Apart from the exhibition, Youth For Climate Tunisia is involved in several initiatives, including a “Declare Climate Emergency in Tunisia” campaign with Greenpeace MENA, a graffiti art project, and  also participated in a climate education project featuring Hend Sabri, Nejib Belkadhi, and international advocates. They also participated in the Climate Justice Camp with Greenpeace.

What message would you like to convey to those still uncertain about climate change’s impact on Tunisia?

Skeptics are encouraged to read, ask questions, and educate themselves about the science behind climate change. The aim is to remove stigma, change false ideas, and influence people to take positive action. The exhibition serves as an invitation to enlightenment and awareness.

Tunisia, with its diverse ecosystems and landscapes, faces a range of climate issues. Access to water, a human right, is a significant challenge. The receding coastline threatens the lives of many Tunisians living on islands, and industrial pollution in Gabès has led to environmental catastrophe and the destruction of natural ecosystems and Indigenous communities. Women, particularly in rural areas and places like Gabès, are affected by these challenges.

Call to action : Declare Climate Emergency

As we wrapped up our conversation with Rihem and Fourat, it was clear that their passion for climate activism is as strong as ever. With the upcoming Exhibition, “Nature in Peril: A visual journey through the climate crisis,” and the release of the educational booklet, Youth For Climate Tunisia is making significant strides towards raising awareness and inspiring action in their community and beyond. 

Dear maft readers, Rihem and Fourat extend a warm invitation to you all to attend the Exhibition, immerse yourselves in the art, and digest the contents of the educational booklet. As Rihem noted “We invite you to our exhibition and wish you could read and be enlightened. Just see the big picture.”

The exhibition is scheduled from September 8th at 4 pm to September 10th at 7 pm at the Central Tunis Art Gallery. For more insights about Youth For Climate Tunisia and their initiatives, you can visit their social media pages.   

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