Colorful geometric rugs on the floor. Trees beneath a tent filled with voices from around the world, speaking a joyful cacophony of foreign languages. People wearing eclectic and futuristic outfits, others in traditional Berber and southern Tunisian clothing. Musicians playing, artists drawing on the walls. A cheerful atmosphere, full of students, young people, entrepreneurs, women and men, all seeking inspiration.
This was the Night of Ideas, “Facing the Present”, at the Institut Français in Tunisia. Launched in January 2016 in Paris, the Night of Ideas brings together thousands of people each year, in dozens of countries. Each event is centered around ideas and public debate, in a spirit of festivity and community.
This year, on January 31, a couple of campers hopped across the Mediterranean to present thecamp’s collaborative residency, Hive: Eric Viennot, Hive co-founder, and Walid Ben Haj Salah, one of the first Hive residents and now sound designer at thecamp — who also happens to be Tunisian.
After the event, Walid spent the weekend catching up on new initiatives in Tunisia. We asked him a few questions!
- Hey, Walid! First of all, can you tell us about your experience as a "Hiver", a resident at the Hive?
The Hive residency is unique. Artist residencies usually simply provide guidance to artists or allow them to start new projects. What happens at the Hive is much more spontaneous and inspiring! We’re encouraged to develop radical new ideas, to start powerful collective projects with social impact. That’s possible because there’s real multicultural and multidisciplinary collaboration between the 20 residents: entrepreneurs, and artists, but also engineers, coders, designers… all working together to bring a breath of fresh air to thecamp. They form a kind of human corps that sends out thousands of vessels to spread ideas and projects!
- What stuck with you the most from the Night of Ideas in Tunis?
It was so rich in emotions and encounters! For the past year, I’ve been a kind of ambassador for Tunisia at thecamp. And now, I’m an ambassador for thecamp in Tunisia. I felt really proud to bring the vision of thecamp to my home country. A lot of people there are determined to change things, to help the country evolve, to create new opportunities. I think there is real potential for collaboration between thecamp and the startup communities that are taking shape in Tunis. A Forbes article even put Tunisia in the top 10 countries where people should found startups!
At the Night of Ideas, there were two incubators represented in our round table discussion. B@Labs, and the coworking space Cogite, which accompanies startups in cleantech (optimisation of industrial techniques and serices that use natural resources like energy, air, source materials…). It’s a sector that’s particularly interesting because there’s a lot of potential for positive environmental impact. And they’re taking concrete action in the field. For example, they’ve organized bootcamps with international NGOs to improve quality of life in Tunisia and elsewhere.
- What are some of the new forms of collaboration you observed in Tunisia, and where?
In Tunis, a lot of artistic initiatives took shape just after the Jasmine Revolution. Many them use art to protect and highlight Tunisian cultural heritage.
For example, the INTERFERENCE collective brings together Tunisian and international artists to work together on art and ideas in the region's medinas.
UNDER THE SAND is another project based around transdisciplinary, international artistic encounters. Its goal is to highlight the city of Gafsa, the doorway to the Tunisian desert, for 3 years (2016-2019).
There’s also DREAM CITY, a pluridisciplinary contemporary art festival organized in public spaces, which exhibits works resulting from an 11-month artisanal production process, wherein Tunisian and foreign artists are invited to innovate in their own artistic processes by creating in situ, in close relationship with the local area and its inhabitants.
Other artist collectives promote alternative forms of civic education using design, like El Warcha, a collective design workshop located in the Hafsia neighborhood of the Tunis medina.
It’s so inspiring to see all these initiatives taking shape!