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Dalel Tangour: Traversées

Along the horizons of hope. The photographic work of the Tunisian artist exhibited at B'chira Art Center, 6 February - 7 March 2015.
By Marko Stamenkovic | Feb 2015

What is sacred for Dalel Tangour? When Fethi Benslama writes in early 2011 about the start of the revolutionary process in Tunisia, he describes it in terms of "the transition to a new organisation of politics, the modality by which the crowd rose up around the figure of the incinerated man". [1] To a great degree, his analysis revolves around the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi "who, by disappearing, allowed the multitude to liberate itself". When arguing about transition as "the traversal of signifiers that, for the Tunisians, linked together originary and becoming," Benslama says the following: The originary in the psychoanalytic conception of the unconscious is not the origin, it does not designate what an individual or group comes from, but what they are advancing towards, more precisely, the fictive destination that they actively give to themselves; they give themselves this destination by seizing hold of fundamental signifiers so as to project them ahead of themselves. (my emphasis)

The concept of human traversals (traversées), as hereby proposed, has a paradigmatic significance for Dalel Tangour and the main subject of this text: her solo exhibition of the same title, taking place in B'chira Art Center, at the outskirts of the Tunisian capital, throughout February 2015. Tangour deploys this concept in her own way by bringing into play three corresponding projects realized in the most recent period of her career. They are, namely: two photographic series – Lueurs, Bord extrême (Glow, Extreme edge) from 2013, and Traversées de Sfax à Kerkenah (Crossing from Sfax to Kerkenah Islands) from 2009-2010 – accompanied by an installation in two parts, titled Echec et Mat 1 & 2 (Checkmate 1 & 2) from 2011-2012. Whether the ray of light rotating from a lighthouse around the dark sky, a foamy line of sea waves between two coasts, or a velvety trace of faceless people from the outside world passing by the window curtains – Tangour constantly captures her own, almost cinematic desire for movement and displacement in many forms. Why? To project it onto the others as a call for action.

Throughout the many years of her prolific artistic practice, she has been a tenacious proponent of one, most significant idea: that of liberation. If this implies certain conditions of liminality, upon which an image-maker establishes his/her relationship with the world, in Tangour’s case such a relationship has a particular value. The act of setting her gaze free from the limits assigned by the 'superior other' has been a fundamental tenet in her work. It equals the forms of advocacy –through her own photographic viewpoint– that have gradually achieved the status of self-imposed 'holiness'. She goes against the expectable reverence for 'sacred order' of things by putting on public display her unwillingness to make concessions to any self-proclaimed authority where she recognizes just another face of tyranny.

Tangour’s exposure of dissent is similar to Benslama’s account of "that which cannot be evaluated, or linked to any estimation, any price, any object whatsoever. It originates in a pure desire to keep the place of power empty, only to allow always insufficient passers-by, so that the value, the meaning, the merit of the being of man remains indeterminable for itself and for others". Thus, in the conditions characterized by a certain kind of oppression, to take a photograph signifies to take one’s own right to look in order to regain the visual space of freedom, either limited or lost, as anterior to any other type of freedom: the space of photography where "tyrannies (secular, religious, moral, patriarchal, psychological, etc) [cannot] seize hold of it to decide who merits what, life and death, infamy, nobility". [2]

Tangour assumes that a photographer’s gaze could be the key element in exerting a certain kind of agency towards the oppositional representation and imagination. This complies with an idea that viewing subjects are able to create the necessary minimal field of resistance in order to prove that images are "not just a particular kind of sign, but something like an actor on the historical stage, a presence or character endowed with legendary status". [3] Or, as Mirzoeff suggests, it is the reality of segregation that needs to be made visible and overcome by imagining a new reality, a product of resistance to visual fascism, which can be achieved by what he calls countervisuality. [4] This is the matter of investment and of peculiar self-inscription, indeed. In the overall process of constantly re-affirming her position –as a female photographer (confined by a patriarchal world) and as a North African intellectual (raising her voice of dissent from the Global South), Tangour’s way of working is but an example of how, by investing their gaze in counter-visual image-making, photographers can inscribe themselves in the collective consciousness as political subjects par excellence.

Whether Benslama’s psychoanalitic position regarding transition and Tangour’s artistic position regarding traversals mutually act upon each other remains an open question. For him, there is a 'human torch' that can shed light on the path towards freedom for a people stuck in the darkness of tyranny. For her, there is an urge to project her gaze ahead of herself, and to have her people’s horizons advanced towards the 'fictive destination' on the other side (some call it democracy – even without ever having experienced it). Her exhibition at the B’chira Art Center this winter is neither about death nor about human torches, although both issues are implicitly present. Rather, it is an invite to examine our own, selfish, vertical worldviews from an-other, more balanced direction, along the horizons of hope - so we could shape, despite ongoing turbulences, a better common cause to keep living for. This is what is sacred for Dalel Tangour.


  1. Fethi Benslama, "Suddenly, Revolution!", Andrew Goffey (trans.), Transeuropéennes – International Journal of Critical Thought (26 April 2011)
  2. Benslama, Ibid.
  3. W. J. T. Mitchell, "What Is an Image?", New Literary History 15:3 (Spring, 1984): 503-537.
  4. Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

Marko Stamenkovic

* 1977, Serbia. Writer, art historian, curator. University of Ghent alumnus (PhD, Philosophy).

Dalel Tangour: Traversées

6 February - 7 March 2015

B'chira Art Center

Sabelet Ben Ammar, Sur la route de Sidi Thabet, BP: 2032, Ariana

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