Chouftouhonna: A Tunisian Feminist Art Festival Making Space for the Queer Imaginary

By Anne Marie Butler
Submitted to Session P4919 (Contemporary Political Art of the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Gender/Women's Studies; Maghreb Studies; Queer/LGBT Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Chouf Minorities is a Tunisian organization that prioritizes women’s bodily sovereignty and sexualities, particularly lesbian, bisexual, and queer, through art, media, and technology. Since 2015 Chouf has coordinated an annual international feminist art festival, Chouftouhonna, which highlights women’s critical cultural dialogue. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, “a sort of mixed, joint experience,” that is “capable of juxtaposing in a single real place, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (1984), this presentation investigates how Chouftouhonna functions as feminist space where the queer imaginary is made possible. The conceptual space resists dominant narratives of social reality such as the rigidity of the Tunisian social-sexual hierarchy, thereby constituting the festival through heterotopia, where the state and gender violence of modern Tunisia are temporarily suspended. Chouftouhonna and Chouf use feminism as a vehicle with which to visualize the queer imaginary through cultural practice.
Due to reforms of the country’s first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba, women in Tunisia have the right to access birth control and abortion, and to initiate divorce. However, the majority of governmental policies and provisions for women merely reinforce the state-serving model of femininity that Bourguiba originally set forth as a modernization project. Further, Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code outlaws homosexuality for both men and women. Much feminist and queer work therefore remains to be done in Tunisia. In 2015, Chouf Minorities hosted the first iteration of the Chouftouhonna festival in Tunis. In September 2017, the now annual festival will be held for the third time. By using multimedia and audiovisual approaches, the festival becomes a “material possibilit(y) of subversion” (Brown, 2007). It creates space where, through making and sharing art and performance, queer and feminist Tunisians can experience non-hierarchical community organization. Without the restrictions created by the overlapping structures of the Tunisian state and social-sexual hierarchy, an affirmation of various sexual and social practices is possible.