Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation





Written by Mysa Kafil-Hussain

“My work is an abyss, a succession of ephemeral suspensions, harmonising the individual gaze with the gaze of the other: Me, seeing Westerners looking at the Maghreb, me being both one who looks and the one who is looked at. Art, for me, exists in this borrowed time between the gaze of one and the gaze of the other” Meriem Bouderbala, 2017[1]

Caught at the intersection between her Tunisian heritage and the Western society surrounding her, Meriam Bouderbala is known as a daring artist who channels her cross-cultural experiences into sensual and experimental mixed-media artworks. Born in Tunis in 1960, Bouderbala comes from a family with an eclectic mix of ethnicities with colourful stories, including her Circassian great-grandmother being kidnapped by Arab pirates (on her father’s side), her great-grandfather fighting for Tunisian independence (on her mother’s side), her mother’s parents hiding Tunisian Jews from Nazi raids during World War II, and her own father doing his military service in France and studying in Paris before returning to Tunis and meeting her mother.[2]

Bouderbala left Tunisia to study painting and engraving at the School of Fine Arts in Aix-en-Provence in France in 1980, graduating in 1985 with a postgraduate diploma in Plastic Arts. She then relocated to London, where she enrolled into Chelsea School of Art in 1986 to study engraving.[3] Since her first solo exhibition, entitled ‘Poussières’, in 1987 at Paris’ Institut du Monde Arabe, she has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions across the world, but predominantly within Tunisia, Morocco and France.

Whilst she continued to produce art regularly since the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s and into the 21st Century, she received renewed interest in her work from 2010 onwards. She was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of the Arts and Letters) in Paris by the French government,[4] cementing her as one of France’s most prominent and established artists of North African descent. Bouderbala found herself back in Tunisia when the revolution began in 2010, and was asked to take photographs of the women participating. Not wanting to contribute to a narrative which could be manipulated in the future under the guise of “representation”, Bouderbala resisted. Later when the impact of the revolution developed and she became further disillusioned, she created her renowned ‘Flag Nymphéas’ series, throwing a Tunisian flag into a basin and creating a range of artistic images: “for me it was my perception of the Tunisian revolution. It is a flag that sinks, it is a nation that is drowning and regenerating itself in this new matrix.”[5] In 2011, she created another series of works entitled ‘Awakened’, a further response to the Tunisian revolution. Made with mixed media, both Awakened 1 and Awakened 2 are in the Dalloul Collection and are visibly confrontational and hard-hitting pieces, featuring figures appearing to be naked with shaved heads, and neither feminine nor masculine. Portrayed to be struggling, the detail on the skin of the figures depicted potentially suggest some form of torture or perhaps burning, fighting for freedom yet restricted by the red thread holding them back. Bouderbala’s title – ‘Awakened’ – suggests that the figures she is depicting here are those enlightened to the injustice in Tunisia, especially artists and intellectuals, yet the result of their social awareness leads to being physically targeted and censored.[6]

Bouderbala’s work is largely inspired by her dual identity, celebrating her Tunisian heritage without being solely defined by it. ‘Awakened’, although different in style from much of her work, is in-keeping with Bouderbala’s interest in creatively considering the representation of the body. Much of her work explores this theme, combining it with her cross-cultural experimentations and especially in her consideration of orientalist tropes in relation to the female form. Using clothing and accessories largely associated with North African Bedouin women, she creates kaleidoscopic images verging on seductive and sensual, confronting commonly constructed perceptions of these communities and challenging the Western gaze. In exploring these complex visual themes in her work, Bouderbala wants to look beyond femininity and feminism and instead focus on one’s agency and existence as a whole: “It is not so much the identity of the woman that interests me but the identity itself.”[7]

In 2012, Bouderbala headed the organising committee for the first edition of Arts Fair Tunis: Le Printemps de Arts, describing the need for “occupying cultural territory…allowing everyone access to it and contributing to a strong democratic cultural constitution that demonstrates the strength of Tunisia's creative potential”, and proclaiming the event as “an act of resistance.”[8] However, during the last day of the exhibition, which was otherwise a great success, individuals arrived to remove paintings they deemed ‘offensive’. Others who objected to the work claimed it as an insult to religion and began a movement against the exhibition, the artists involved (some of whom received death threats) and Bouderbala herself. The debate regarding freedom of expression gained momentum, and eventually the venue reopened, however it proved to Bouderbala and many other Tunisian creatives that there was still much work to be done.

As a woman of many trades – photographer, painter, ceramist and curator – Bouderbala is unlimited in her scope and is still creating innovative and provocative work which probes all aspects of her identity. She continues to live and work between Paris and Tunis.

[1] Simon Njami, “Meriem Bouderbala: A Fathomless Enigma, Shared Exoticism”, Tribe Magazine: Photography and New Media from the Arab World, Issue 4, March 2017

[2] Ibid

[3] Fortunata Calabro, “Meriem Bouderbala: Female Arab Art”, Her Blueprint (blog of the former International Museum of Women), October 23, 2013, https://imowblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/meriem-bouderbala.html

[4] Jyoti Kalsi, “Shining a Spotlight on North African Art”, Gulf News, August 04, 2016, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/arts-culture/shining-a-spotlight-on-north-african-art-1.1873799

[5] Ines Ben Azouz, “Meriem Bouderbala, Living Artist”, Ideo Magazine, June 07, 2018, https://www.ideomagazine.com/meriem-bouderbala/

[6] Jean-Luc Chalumeau, “Meriem Bouderbala: l’annonciatrice de « l’art des Sud »”, Visuelimage.com, March 08 2012, https://www.visuelimage.com/hebdo/index.php?ad=310&id_news=6760

[7] Ben Azouz, “Meriem Bouderbala, Living Artist”

[8] Rachida Triki, “Freedom to Express: The Abdellia Affair”, Ibraaz, August 23, 2012, http://www.ibraaz.org/news/30


Ben Azouz, Ines. “Meriem Bouderbala, Living Artist”. Ideo Magazine. June 07, 2018. Accessed February 2021. https://www.ideomagazine.com/meriem-bouderbala/

Calabro, Fortunata. “Meriem Bouderbala: Female Arab Art”. Her Blueprint (blog of the former International Museum of Women). October 23, 2013. Accessed February 2021. https://imowblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/meriem-bouderbala.html

Chalumeau, Jean-Luc. “Meriem Bouderbala: l’annonciatrice de « l’art des Sud »”. Visuelimage.com. March 08 2012. Accessed February 2021. https://www.visuelimage.com/hebdo/index.php?ad=310&id_news=6760

Kalsi, Jyoti. “Shining a Spotlight on North African Art”. Gulf News. August 04, 2016. Accessed February 2021. https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/arts-culture/shining-a-spotlight-on-north-african-art-1.1873799

Njami, Simon. “Meriem Bouderbala: A Fathomless Enigma, Shared Exoticism”. Tribe Magazine: Photography and New Media from the Arab World, Issue 4, p. 132-137. March 2017.

Triki, Rachida. “Freedom to Express: The Abdellia Affair”. Ibraaz. August 23, 2012. Accessed February 2021. http://www.ibraaz.org/news/30



Selected Solo Exhibitions


Ambivalences Suspectes, Ghaya Gallery, Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia


The Box Space, Tunis, Tunisia


Psykédelik, Galerie GVCC, Casablanca, Morocco


Sur le fil, Galerie Ammar Farhat, Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia


CMOOA Gallery, Rabat, Morocco


Etoffes Cutanées, Galerie CMOOA, Rabat, Morocco
Universe, Galerie Le Violon Bleu, London, United Kingdom


Étoffes Cutanées, Galerie Amar Farhat, Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia


Dissolution, Galerie Alain Couturier, Nice, France
Hammam, Galerie Amar Farhat, Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia


Zaouias, Galerie Amar Farhat, Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia


Visions d’une Grande Peste, Espace Paul Ricard, Paris, France
L’étoffe des Cauchemars, Galerie Olivier Houg, Lyon, France


OEil noir, Galerie Médina, Tunis, Tunisia


Éclipse, Galerie Lola Gassin, Nice, France
Tohu va vohu, Galerie le Monde de l’Art, Paris, France


Épreuve, Galerie Keller, Paris, France


Poussières, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

Selected Group Exhibitions


E-Mois, The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech, Morocco


Yesterday is Tomorrow’s Memory, ElMarsa Gallery, Dubai


Soul States, Private house, Brussels, Belgium


Le Corps Découvert, Arab World Institute at the National Museum of Bahrain, Manama, Bahrain
Naila Art Gallery, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Abu Dhabi Festival 2013, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, Emirates


Le Corps Découvert, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
25 years of Arab creativity, Insitut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Dégagement – Tunisie, un an après, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France


Dos Orillas - El Arte Contemporaneo en el Magreb, Museum of Contemporary Art of Madrid, Spain
Images Affranchies, Musée Banque du Maroc, Marrakech, Morocco
Mastermind - L’amour et la violence, Galerie GVCC, Casablanca, Morocco


Entre Deux Rives, Musée de la Monnaie de Paris, France
La Part du Corps, Palais Kheïreddine, Museum of the city of Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia


Traversées: Artistes Contemporains Arabes, Darb 1718, Cairo, Egypt; Galerie Bab Rouah and Galerie Bab El Kébir, Rabat, Morocco


Femmes d’images en Tunisie, Espace privé, Boulogne-Billancourt, France


l’Image révélée, Museum of the city of Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia


Zone Industrielle de la Charguia, Tunis, Tunisia


Création, Mise en scène, adaptation et scénographie d’Ubu en Palestine, Théâtre la Casbah, Ramallah, Palestine


Carthage et l’art contemporain, Ministry of Culture, Tunisia
Scénographie et mise en scène de Gare au gorille, Théâtre National d’Orléans, Festival d’Avignon, France


Oliviers, Exposition Universelle Hanovre, Hanover, Germany


Invitation To Love, Bedroom Gallery-Bathroom Gallery, Paris, France
Dix ans de Jeune Peinture Tunisienne, Tunis, Tunisia
Breaking the Veils, The Royal Society of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan


Risquer l’inconnu ou l’autre multiplié, Biennale de Lyon, Galerie Olivier Houg, Lyon, France
Je ne quitterai jamais mes amis, Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt, Paris, France


Chassé-croisé... Peintres tunisiens et européens au XXème siècle, Palais Kheïreddine Pacha, Tunis


Tunisie: Regard sur l’Art Contemporain, Espace Ecureuil, Toulouse; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France


Women in the Arts, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., United States of America
La Méditerranée a du Talent, French Cultural Center, Casablanca, Morocco
Autour de la Méditerranée, Galerie Lola Gassin, Cannes, France


Musée d’art Contemporain de la Ville de Lisbonne, Portugal

Public Exhibitions


1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London, United Kingdom


Abu Dhabi Art 2013 (with Elmarsa gallery, Tunis), Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Art Dubai 2012 (with Elmarsa gallery, Tunis), Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Arts Fair Tunis: Printemps des Arts, Palais Abdellia, La Marsa, Tunisia
Dream City 2012, Biennal of Arab Contemporary Art, Tunis and Sfax, Tunisia


Cairo Biennal of Contemporary Art, Cairo, Egypt


Art Basel Miami Beach, Florida, United States of America
Abu Dhabi Art 2010 (with Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris), Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Abu Dhabi Art 2009 (with Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris), Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Art Paris (with Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris), Paris, France
TEFAF (with Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris), Maastricht, Netherlands


Art Paris-Abu Dhabi (with Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris), Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Traversées: Artistes Contemporains Arabes, Art Paris 2008, Grand Palais, Paris, France

Curatorial Projects

E-Mois, The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech, Morocco, 2017
Arts Fair Tunis: Printemps des Arts, Palais Abdellia, La Marsa, Tunisia, 2012
Phototropism, Galerie el Borj, Tunis, Tunisia, 2009
L’image révélée, de l’orientalisme à l’art contemporain (Tunisian section of the exhibition), Tunis, Tunisa, 2006
L’intime et l’étranger at the Contemporary Art Meetings of the Medina in Tunis, Tunisia, 2003



Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) de France, France


Fondation d'entreprise Ricard Prize


Fondation ELF, Paris, France
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Ministry of Culture, Tunisia
Ministry of Culture, France
Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon