The story of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation in Tunisia

New phase of the journey to discover the African art scene. This time the destination is Tunisia, where the Kamel Lazaar Foundation has been active since 2014. We interviewed the Vice President

Since 2014, in Tunis, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation has been engaged in contemporary art with the aim of expanding the perspective of the Tunisian scene thanks to the connection to North Africa and the Middle East, also dealing with the protection of ancient heritage. Lina LazaarVice-President of the Foundation, illustrates its many activities.

Lina Lazaar, Vice President of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation. Courtesy KLF Foundation

How was the fund born?
In 2005, patron and philanthropist Kamel Lazaar, a supporter of Tunisian culture and art, created the foundation of the same name. Born as a body governed by Swiss law, it then developed its activities in Tunisia in 2014. I, who define myself as a creative visionary, joined the foundation in 2016 as Vice President and work to build initiatives with high social impact in the regions in the Middle East and North Africa. After a master’s in art history at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and working at the auction house of the same name, I was able to develop considerable expertise in the contemporary art sector.

What activities does the fund promote?
KLF is particularly involved in international events to promote Tunisian and Arab artists abroad; he curated the Tunisian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and collaborated with MoMA in New York, Tate Modern in London and IMA in Paris. The Lazaar family is also part of the boards of some organizations in Ramallah and Chicago. In addition, he works on the preservation of the national heritage, through the restoration of historical monuments such as those in the Medina of Tunis, Baron d’Erlanger’s studio in the Ennejma Ezzahra Palace in Sidi Bou Saïd, the Bardo Museum, and the Sidi Boukhrissane Mausoleum. . Finally, the expansion of the art collection continues with the aim of creating a permanent space for contemporary art in Tunis.

State of emergency.  Exhibition display at B7L9 Art Station, Tunis 2021. Courtesy KLF Foundation
State of emergency. Exhibition display at B7L9 Art Station, Tunis 2021. Courtesy KLF Foundation


What is the government’s effort to support the culture of the country?
The political instability of the last decade has had a major impact on the cultural sector, weakened by the absence of effective cultural policies since the Ben Ali era. The promulgation of a legal status for artists, the free movement of works of art, the simplification of administrative procedures for public-private partnerships – still too complex -, the revision of licensing procedures and the stricter application of legislation, intellectual property issues are still to be resolved. The government must therefore implement a political project to solve these problems and promote new synergies in the cultural sector. It is important to remember the role of civil society and the associative structure in keeping this sector alive despite all the difficulties.

The fund also has its own permanent collection. How was it born and what is its focus?
The collection, started by the Lazaar family and developed over the years by its aesthetic and intellectual choices, forms the backbone of the foundation. As Vice President, I was able to work as an art critic and curator of exhibitions at major events: I founded Jeddah Art Week in 2013, I curated the Tunisia Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and 2017 (the pavilion) The absence of trails it was the only one with a pan-Arabic character). From there, we enriched the collection by acquiring works of art from artists from the MENA region. With almost 1,300 works from over 21 countries, it is one of the largest in the Middle East and North Africa and tells the story of over fifty years of art in the region along with young artists and internationally acclaimed artists such as Mounir Fatmi, Abdelaziz Gorgi, Nabil Youssef, Mona Hatoum or Kader Attia. Although the foundation does not yet have room for a permanent exhibition, the works are regularly lent to exhibitions at museums around the world.

Kultursolidire.  Exhibition display at B7L9 Art Station, Tunis 2020. Courtesy KLF Foundation
Kultursolidire. Exhibition display at B7L9 Art Station, Tunis 2020. Courtesy KLF Foundation


How would you describe the Tunisian contemporary art scene? Are there artists who are engaged in the great issues of our time, such as human rights, gender equality, environmental protection?
The art scene stands out for its dynamism, variety and creative potential. That said, in Tunisia, as in other countries, the most talented artists are undeniably succeeding in pushing reflection to another level, and it is not geographical boundaries or cultural constraints that prevent them from doing so. It is enough to look at works by artists like Nadia Kaabi-Linke and others like her to realize the sharpness of the gaze that the new generation of Tunisian artists are facing towards the problems in our society. The foundation has, of course, called for artistic initiatives and projects based on current issues.

What is the role of women in Tunisian culture? Do they have the same career opportunities as men?
Women play an important role in Tunisian society and especially in the cultural sector. They are leading actresses in the country’s cultural leadership and association structure. No distinction is made between men and women for access to studies or the pursuit of artistic professions. In any case, the statistics clearly show the progress of the fair sex in the education rate from primary school to university, and this has had consequences for women’s contribution to art and culture. This is thanks to the progress of Tunisian society on women’s rights, which began with the country’s independence in 1956 and the publication of the personal status code. Tunisian women have thus been able to integrate into all sectors of civil life, including culture.

What are the Foundation’s efforts to support young artists? Are there scholarships and other such tools?
Support for young artists has been one of the main objectives since the foundation of the fund, with several calls for proposals that have enabled them to support their projects. Kamel Lazaar was also the first fund to launch a call for projects in support of young artists during the first post-pandemic reopening, in 2020. A new call is being launched, and this time it will be targeted at artists, researchers and curators from and / or resident in Arab countries. It is important to emphasize that the Foundation’s efforts to support young artists continued beyond the calls, and dozens of projects received in the form of unsolicited applications were researched and supported.

Niccolò Lucarelli


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