The Djerbahood Project: Street Art in Dialogue with the People of Tunisia

In much of the Middle East, graffiti is regarded as a form of vandalism—a subversive crime to be scrubbed away or painted over and concealed. However, that outdated understanding may be shifting due to the impact of the wildly popular Djerbahood Project. From July-August, 2014, Djerba, an ancient Tunisian island, recently welcomed around 150 of the world’s best known and emerging street artists, to bring new life to the whitewashed walls of the tiny, traditional village of Erriadh.

The Djerbahood project was organized by the Paris-based Galerie Itinerrance under the direction of Tunisian artist and gallery director Mehdi Ben Cheikh, who wanted to show the outside world that freedom of expression, tourism, and street art have blossomed in the wake of the eventful January 2011 Jasmine Revolution, which marked the first chapter of the Arab Spring.

One of the charming blue doors that dot the whitewashed traditional village. Image courtesy of Galerie Itinerrance.
One of the charming blue doors that dot the whitewashed traditional village. Image courtesy of Galerie Itinerrance.

The Djerbahood project brought together some of the biggest names in street art from 30 countries in a collaboration that marks one of the largest meetings of contemporary street artists to-date. Participating artists included C215, eL Seed, Phlegm, ROA, and a stable of others. Djerba is home to active communities of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who all live in simple harmony, and the artists engaged in conversations with Erriadh’s residents, many of whom provided the visitors with music, warm dinners, and even the walls of their family homes to use as a canvas. Most of the murals engaged directly with the island’s history and culture, such as the octopus that Belgian artist ROA painted with a head formed from a local mosque’s dome, or the mural of a Berber woman by Dubai-based Myneandyours, which celebrates the island’s legacy in the ‘Odyssey’ as the home of the mystical Lotus Eaters.

Add Fuel - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Add Fuel – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Add Fuel: Diego Machado is known for his decorative tiles, tromp l’oeil, and imaginary characters. His murals remind me of walks past traditionally tiled buildings in the hilly city of Lisbon.

The village of Erriadh on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Image courtesy of Galeria Itinerrance.
The village of Erriadh on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Image courtesy of Galeria Itinerrance.
Curiot - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Curiot – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Street artist and painter Curiot (Favio Martinez) is known for the mystical beasts he brings to life on the wall. Think Greek mythology’s man-killing Minator meets “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Dan23- Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Dan23- Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Dan 23 paints portraits on walls, each of which is intimately connected to the lyrics or emotions of a single song.

eL Seed - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
eL Seed – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Tunisian street artist eL Seed is known for his calligraffiti, which marries Arabic calligraphy with graffiti. eL Seed just wrapped up a year-long residency at Tashkeel in Dubai, culminating in a solo show titled ‘Declaration.’ You can read our recent interview on ArtSlant here.

Faith47 - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Faith47 – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

When I lived in Cape Town, South Africa, I had a Faith47 mural on my rundown street and it’s deep call for justice is what go me into street art in the first place. The soulful spirituality of Faith47’s work is what gets to me every time.

Know Hope - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Know Hope – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Tel Aviv-based artist Know Hope sings the blues on the walls he tags, often incorporating texts into his work. Interestingly, some of his street-art inspired mixed media has been auctioned by Sotheby’s.

Liliwenn - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Liliwenn – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

I’m still learning about French street artist Liliwenn, but I sure admire what I see so far.

Monica Canilao - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Monica Canilao – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Monica Canilao comes from Oakland in California, a town which marks the center of Northern California’s West Side hip hop and graffiti movement.

Mosko - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Mosko – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

MOSKO is a street artist and graffiti writer from Paris, France. Recent work featured a number of wild animals poised in observation on walls in urban centers. Wouldn’t you like to walk by a life-size giraffe on your way to work?

Roa - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance.jpg
Roa – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance.jpg

Roa is a Belgium-born artist who is known for his walls which typically feature wildlife native to the city in which he is painting at any given time. The animals are often on the endangered species list.

Rodolphe Cintorino - Copyrights Mehdi Ben Cheikh - Galerie Itinerrance
Rodolphe Cintorino – Copyrights Mehdi Ben Cheikh – Galerie Itinerrance

Rodolphe Cintorino is a mixed media artist who experiments with installations, iconography, and performances. His installation added a 3-D element to the Djerbahood Project

Saner - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Saner – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

SANER is a Mexican graffiti artist who has cleverly branched out into other mediums including toys, illustrations and street art inspired works indoors. He recently had a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Luis Potosi, which you can read about in Juxtapoz Magazine.

Shoof and BomK- Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Shoof and BomK- Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance
Swoon - Copyrights Aline Deschamps - Galerie Itinerrance
Swoon – Copyrights Aline Deschamps – Galerie Itinerrance

Connecticut-born Swoon has built a name with large scale wheat paste prints and paper cutouts, and has been on the street art scene since the late 90’s.

Good Ideas: The Djerbahood project has been beautifully documented in numerous international publications. For the most thorough library of images and stories, visit the dedicated Djerbahood project site here. For more information about Galerie Itinerrance, a street art gallery in Paris that organized the Djerbahood project, go here.

Credits: A shorter version of this post was published in ArtSlant. All images are provided courtesy of Galerie Itinerrance, the artist, and photographer, as specified in captions.