Interview with Slimen Elkamel, visual artist, teacher at ISBAS.
PLASTIKOS ISBAS CLUB, THE PAGE · WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2018
(Interview published in the first issue of PIC, the cultural gazette of the Higher Institute of Fine Arts of Sousse, 1st edition, May 2018, p.50.)
Plastikos: How do you present yourself, and what was your career?
Slimen Elkamel: I studied at the Beaux-Arts in Tunis, then I went to live at the Center des Arts Vivants in Rades. I also started a thesis that I interrupted and that I will resume maybe ... But I tried to enrich this course by reading and by being active in movie clubs, that is to say that part of my training is academic, and another part was spontaneous later. And it is also valid for the technique, because it is possible that one finishes a university course without having tackled some techniques, like the serigraphy, or the maroufalge, then one explores them later.
P: Do you maintain a constant relationship with your artistic practice? Do you work at your art every day or according to the projects?
SE: I work regularly, and my practice does not depend on an exhibition or event in particular. But it's important to put your work in what is beyond your product. The main project that I defend is that art is everywhere, in the street, cafes, bars, mosques ... in our conception of the world, art must be present. And it is for the same reason that I happen to write about questions of general interest or about politics or that I participate in marches ... all this nourishes the same project which exceeds the fact of to be an artist, to work in a workshop and to exhibit.
P: Do you ever get a job that satisfies you without exposing it?
SE: In the beginning, there is indeed work that I kept for myself. But later, it is mostly written that I do not publish. It's because writing is often used as a kind of "warm-up", so I do not show everything. But most of my plastic work has been the subject of exhibitions and if I keep my very first works it's because they constitute a kind of rough draft that allowed me to look for me, to know myself better and to to better define what I want to do.
P: Which exhibitions do you prefer, personal or collective, local or international?
SE: You do not necessarily decide to exhibit solo or in a group. There are opportunities that arise and you choose from those that suit you. But for my part, I refuse since I was a student to participate in the exhibitions of the Union of Plactician Artists and all that is related to the official institutions, because this kind of exhibitions you sticks the label of "artist official ", subject to the state and who is at the service of his propaganda. I would even say that it reduces your art and turns you into an opportunistic artist and profiteer of public money, since it makes you evolve in a circle whose ultimate goal is to please the purchase commission of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. And that's why I advise my artist friends and students to move away from official associations and art. If you have an art project to develop, try to free yourself from official institutions and free your expression of dependence on the state and its money.
P: And what about international exhibitions?
SE: I am currently preparing a solo exhibition to be held in London in December 2018. But, again, I do not necessarily decide this, because the work, once completed by the artist, begins another life in from galleries and that depends on the art market, collectors ... A life that escapes the artist. I regret, however, to exhibit mostly abroad for the moment. This is because in Tunisia, there are very few independent galleries of the state, with gallery owners who are for the most part "traders", who would sell the painting like any other product, without really being interested in everything related to culture that surrounds and accompanies the artistic work itself. I know well-known artists who have gone through difficult situations without these gallerists intervene, while they could have helped them by buying some work, for example.
P: ... favorite galleries in Tunisia?
SE: I worked with all the great gallery owners in Tunisia and I would still work with them without preference, as the relationship will stop at the sale of the work. Moreover, this attitude of gallerists tends to encourage indirectly "salable" artistic forms to the detriment of experimental forms, and it is a pity for the artistic creation in general which is conditioned more and more by the possibility ofyou. That said, as far as I'm concerned, the recognition abroad creates interest in Tunisia, which allows me a certain freedom, and it is unfortunate that it is so, that is to say that "the taste Is created by recognition.
P: To go back to the advice you give to not expose with official organizations, can you explain that to us more?
SE: Well, as I said before, it is high time to stop, in Tunisia, with the logic of loot and plunder of state funds. The Union of Plastic Artists, which is a "pseudo-independent" association, has a majority of artists, very modest, whose production is limited to one work per year (the state does not buy more than one work per artist each year). These artists put their work into the Union's annual exhibition (at unjustified prices), which "forces" the buying commission, by means necessarily dubious, to spend almost half of its annual budget for this exhibition. (around half a billion). This money can be much more useful otherwise. And if I say that this association is not independent, it is because it has accustomed us to propaganda actions for the former dictatorial regime, its leaders always managed to be close to the Ministry of Culture and the minister, and continue today to be in perfect harmony with the decisions of the state and with its policy. The Union has never been critical of anything. Nothing should allow a free artist to become a spokesman for the state. I recall that the state lodged a complaint against artists, following the El Ebdelleya affair, and that some of them have been prosecuted until now, (Mohamed Ben Slama for example). A minister had spoken with an imam to attack the artists and treat them amateurs (Nadia Jelassi is amateur according to him!), So it is a ministry with fixed ideas, which does not even know the artists and who does not respect them. Other details reveal this lack of seriousness: the roundabouts for example, let's see who gets these markets, if the legal procedure has been respected, who validates the projects, according to what, if there are traces of research, how is the work done, who pays for it, who gets the big share ...? One has only to see the mediocrity of the results to be convinced of that of the approach. To summarize, the source of all these problems is that the state has a budget for Culture but does not know how to spend it. It creates opportunism and encourages it indirectly.
P: Is it easier to teach the visual arts when you're an artist?
SE: I do not consider myself a shop master. When I come to the institute I am a teacher and I teach properly. I do not forget the artist because he is simply in me and I can not shut him up. It is not only that the artist is not the teacher, but that the artist is not only a practitioner who has technical know-how, but first of all someone whose thinking is part of of his way of life. It is the same way that he can teach or be a good citizen and this affects his relationship to the other and his way of being in general. Is not an artist who steals money from the state for example. Art is in everyone of us and it is when it is developed that it makes a good teacher or a good craftsman, or even a good policeman. He then has the sense of know-how but also that of creativity and intelligence. So when I teach, I do not ask myself this question, I just do my best to teach and that's all.
P: Do your personal choices, your sensitivity do not influence your assessment of student work?
SE: It must be said that as long as the evaluation criteria are clear, whether in juries with several teachers or during the year, the problem does not arise. But again, there is no contradiction, since the artist also works to encourage differences and to make them accept. So students' work should not be like that of the teacher, nor should they look the same.
P: What subjects do you choose to teach?
SE: At ISBAS, I have never chosen a particular subject, with the exception of "Wall Art", an optional subject that has unfortunately been replaced by "Watercolor". I find it regrettable the tendency to favor, at the level of the options, the matters of technical nature They are easier to teach being based on recipes ... This problem is general and does not affect that the fine arts. Teaching someone to think, to interpret, to design, is the key to innovation and it's more important than teaching them how to do it.
P: What do you think of Plastikos and para-university activities?
SE: I encourage your efforts and I am sensitive. When I started working at ISBAS, I created a recovery workshop that was open to everyone and worked well for a while. I also had the idea to create, with the students, a publication about the criticism, but that did not succeed. One of the most important values to be taught today at ISBAS and throughout Tunisia is the Will. There are thousands of unemployed plastic arts teachers who can not be hired by the government, no government can do it. They sit idly by desperately while it is up to them to decide to act and move forward. Most do not care about crafts that are related to art and do not suspect the possibility of earning their living by being artists or critics or supervisors or restorers, etc. So it is very important to work on self-confidence and in the future.
P: Do you have any advice on student orientation at the end of the first year?
SE: I think that the first year is too short for the experiment to be sufficient to choose the specialty. In addition, this short time is poorly exploited. The current programs do not take into account the basic profile of the student who has never had the idea before to watch an auteur or scribble film, but suddenly finds himself to draw a cube correctly. What relationship does it have with this abstract form, or with a cylinder? What place has this kind of objects in his life? We do not ask ourselves these questions, but moreover, we rigorously evaluate the exercises by making believe, sometimes explicitly, to the one who misses them that it is not made for studies in art. How is he going to make a specialty choice with this idea in mind? If simple forms are essential for drawing complex shapes, it is the link of the predisposition to work and learning that is missing in the chain. And it is this articulation that must be worked on. This problem can only be solved through a creative pedagogy that revises its goals. I would rather if the evaluation is less severe and the exercises are more experimental or even more fun, to achieve first motivation goal, which will automatically push students to evolve in its various core subjects and learn by the following in an autonomous way.
P: Do you have any suggestions for Plastikos or other points to raise?
SE: There is one problem that could be developed in a documentary that is close to my heart: it is that of the interference between the social and the educational. I imagine a film that traces the evolution of a graduation project, from the first idea to the final result and that highlights the impact of what surrounds the researcher in his daily life in his social life on the evolution of his project at the institute. You should know that many students in Sousse are dropped off at the institute in the morning by their families to be recovered immediately after the end of classes without having had the opportunity to "live" at the institute outside the schools. administrative schedules, or to discuss or go to a library. In my opinion, I must work to create a true university life that allows every student to feel at home here and to love this institute, and this documentary can participate. It is of great importance for the student of the fine arts to be curious, to see the work of other students in other disciplines, to learn to discuss them, and to make productive experiences outside the classroom. immediate administrative profitability. It is amazing not to see art students doing anything other than their academic achievements. Learning to be concerned by your environment, its history and its news starts at the university, and for future artists, it starts at the institute and its surroundings, in the intervals, between two courses, between two rooms, between two specialties, in the officious, the free, the generous and the independent.
Interview by Plastikos ISBAS Club interview team. Exchange: Kawther Mahjoubi (2nd Media Arts). Photo report: Amira Lamti (2nd Photography). Video report: Zied Ben Hassine (2nd Photography). Translation: Oussema Troudi (teacher). April 2018.
Image credit: Slimen El Kamel Live Together 2017 Acrylic on canvas 45x45cm