Maghreb Voices – Férid Boughedir: Prophesying the Arab Spring, Part II

Maghreb Voices – Férid Boughedir: Prophesying the Arab Spring, Part II

Read Part I of this article here

?I see two stars darting across the sky. Between them darts a shining star. It is coming towards us. It shines over all the planet. Djandjo, the sky is changing colour. It is getting darker. This means that our knowledge escapes us. The divine forces have deserted us. Now act by your strength and by what you know. Make offerings and go. From now on act according to your knowledge.?

from Finye (The Wind), a 1982 film by Souleymane Cisse

?As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.?

Carl Jung

A Glancing Light

In Child of the Terraces, young Noura (the apt moniker means ?light? in Arabic) sneaks through alleyways, clambers up and down stairs, scales walls, and leaps across rooftops. On the way, he peeks into every window, every door he finds ajar, and down into every street and courtyard, his insatiable curiosity compelling his eyes to devour every inch of the splendour of Tunisian life.

Later he reflects, turning the sights, sounds, and strange new sensations over in his mind, and reaches personal conclusions clearly at odds with the prejudices of the motley collection of Chaucerian characters around him. These ribald, repressed, vulgar, prudish, sensual, and tight-arsed Tunisians continually hedge him in, their company comprising both a prison and a muddy road to freedom.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Noura is a human movie camera, bringing us his pictorial fodder and inviting us to interpret it. we’re asked to look at this raw material honestly; Noura is also the quintessential modern artist, requiring that experience be understood only in light of one’s most heartfelt convictions.

This is not an easy task and many an artist falls short, unable to develop a strong conscience and thus simply being, like Stevenson’s cow, ?blown by all the winds that pass and wet with all the showers.? And to be fair, It’s not easy to remain entirely true to one’s own conscience or to trust one’s own mind as the standard by which to judge experience and the values and beliefs of one’s society. For one thing, many human beings have a quite natural desire to be told what to do and think, and some are ready to rise to the occasion of dictating our ?shoulds? to us.

Tug of War

This tug of war between self and the other is clearly played out in Boughedir’s work, which portrays small-scale power struggles within families and communities as well as the large-scale conflicts of the global stage. For example, Un été à La Goulette depicts the effect of the Palestine conflict on daily life in Tunisia; while in Villa Jasmin the conflicts between socialist reformers and colonial governments are manifested. There’s also the dichotomy between religious traditions and the craving for pleasure, and between political repression and the desire to speak freely.

It’s no wonder that caged birds are a frequently recurring metaphor in Boughedir’s films.

Incubating Radicalism

In Child of the Terraces, Noura’s voyeurism delivers a spectrum of experience in pre-Bourguiba Tunisia. It also expresses the boy’s sadness at a society that symbolically castrates and shames him, both physically and intellectually.

Though this is the fleeting pain of a young boy unable as yet to cope with his budding sexuality (It’s clear that Noura is on his way to becoming an unusually gifted young man), they’re indications of the malaise that afflicts the young in many Arab countries, where unemployment, sexual frustration, political and religious repression, and foreign interference breed hopelessness. These in turn create Petrie dishes for incubating subversive elements whose determination to take power usurps any desire to work for the good of their nations.

Silencing Dissent

In Child of the Terraces, the local shoemaker, drunk, is stumbling down the street when he sees this dictum scrawled on a wall: ?One mind for all?the president?s.? He immediately strikes this out and writes beneath it: ?Our mind? not the president?s.? Someone sees him doing it, and the next day he’s carted off to jail, calling, in comic triumph, to the woman he loves, ?Wait for me!?

Listening to the Seers

In retrospect, the conditions that led to the Jasmine Revolution and the domino effect it created were clearly revealed in the films of Boughedir. But what do these films have to tell us about the aftermath of revolution and what is needed to make it succeed?

The answer might seem simple-minded, but what emerges from Boughedir’s films is the absolute necessity of a pure love, that bright jewel you find after courageously burrowing deep into the muck of human experience, that priceless treasure hidden in the common, the mundane, the everyday. Why is it to be found here? Because this is where God is, plain and simple.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.