Protesters damage ‘offensive’ artwork in Tunisia


Protesters have damaged several works of art at an exhibition in Tunisia, in what appears to have been the latest in a series of attacks by Islamic religious hardliners on liberal or secular targets.

A group of men broke into the venue in the northern suburbs of Tunis overnight Sunday-Monday, slashing several canvases and dismantling one art installation, said the show’s director Luca Luccatini.

Earlier Sunday, several men believed to be ultra-conservative Salafist Muslims had turned up presenting themselves as a lawyer and bailiffs and demanding that four works judged “offensive to sacred values” be taken down, he said.

“We called the police because their behavior was aggressive and they threatened to come back,” said Luccatini.

Supporters of the art exhibition later faced off with a group of bearded men dressed in the style of Salafists outside the gallery, which was broken into after it had closed for the day.

As well as the paintings that were destroyed, one installation, called “The Ring” -- which showed the faces of Tunisian women, Jewish and Christian, painted on punching balls -- was dismantled and removed, Luccatini told AFP.

He said he had filed a formal complaint over the incident, which he said smaks of “fanaticism”.

The interior ministry said police had seized four works that were attracting controversy in order to keep them safe.

The culture ministry, while saying it supported freedom of creation, denounced what it said were “all kinds of aggression against sacred values” as presented in some of the works on show.

Lamia Guemara, one of the artists whose work was damaged, told AFP: “I feel enormously angry. It’s sad that we’ve come to this.”

Last month, Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri threatened to punish Salafist Muslims who push their views on others too hard, after radical Islamists forced a series of bars and shops selling alcohol to close.

But critics of the extremists have denounced the lack of action by the authorities in the face of the sometimes violent moves by Salafists.