The idea of a Tunisian glossary for contemporary art started since early discussions about the TASAWAR program. The program is focused in general on art form the African continent but is specifically dedicated to diversify and strengthen curatorial practices. Part of the discussion included the question: Which language do we use when we speak about contemporary art in Tunisia?
Which language do curators speak? This is a question which needs to be raised during the training program due to the importance of language in general and specifically when talking about curatorial practices. Text is the principal vehicle of expression and communication for curators, besides the exhibitions themselves.
Curatorial texts are characterized by the complexity of their grammar and content as well as the dense meaning which is packed in to them.
To start, it’s important to understand the lexicon and glossary used in curatorial writing, its history but as well its application. It’s also necessary to agree that curatorial writing is very much influenced by the English language and the way that it has been used by early curators.
Through history of curatorship, a specific language (English) was developed to carry meaning. In the publication INTERNATIONAL ART ENGLISH, Alix Rule and David Levine argue that, “the internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated. …”
We can observe several web platforms and initiatives that collect, define, discuss and disseminate art related languages:
TATE’s website has a dedicated page to “art terms”.
ONCURATING.org is an independent international web journal focusing on questions around curatorial practices and theory.
At this point, we should be asking ourselves, as Tunisian curators, which language we speak in our daily life and context and how it might impact our thinking process and practices.
During the first studio of TASAWAR, and even before discussing the curatorial writing practices, the participants debated on the composition of the Tunisian dialect/language. As well, they discussed about how it has been influenced throughout history and how it continues to develop. Its impact on the Tunisian art context is not very visible. At the same time, they agreed that the language used when speaking about art is not adapted to the Tunisian dialect/languages. They concluded, that Tunisian cultural practitioners still face a lot of difficulties when mediating contemporary art to a general audience.
Actually, a similar experience is encountered in Hungary where several concepts and words are not transferable from English to Hungarian. That is why transit.hu initiated a platform called CURATORIAL DICTIONNARY where they try to define curatorial terms in English as well as in Hungarian.
Can we imagine a similar process for the Tunisian dialect/language?
The importance of reflecting on this subject was clear. Through these discussions we noticed a multiplicity of opinions on how to proceed, about how the Tunisian dialect is structured and about its relevance in this context. Everyone however agreed that it’s crucial to find a way how to translate our discussion about curatorial practice into the Tunisian dialect/language.
Starting from the English lexicon around curatorship and art practice we try put in place a process that allows us moving and transitioning to the Tunisian dialect/language.
Since the first discussions and exercises we noticed a certain kind of patterns that we followed in order to understand the selected words and to translate them in Tunisian. We usually discussed the English wording and tried to identify to French and Arabic to get to a common understanding of the different etymologies as well and the different meanings or nuance of the words. This step was somehow important to get to a Tunisian translation. But we tried as well to research Tunisian wording in the different dialects and old traditions in order to find Tunisian linguistic resources from where we can draw new meanings from the old uses and practice of words.
In general the tendency was not to find only and one equal word that stand for the English word but instead to build a cloud of meaning referred to by several wording. The idea is through a system of nuance we can be flexible in the use of the words depending the context.
The milieu of use and practice is very important in the Tunisian languages/dialect. It has several influences and background. We can talk about Amazigh roots and Arabic as base of use, but as well about the French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish influences and nowadays English. And of course, depending on the context and the speaker different words can be used to express different meanings but it will always Tunisian.
Another consideration to be made as well is that the dialect is updating itself continuously by adding and subtracting words by the forces of use and as well by changing and transforming the forms and meaning of the words . Therefore, we observe continuously the raise (becoming hip) of slangy and colloquial wording coming from urban or rural context.
Through this moving journey, we would like to reflect on these different aspects and construct a collaborative glossary that stays open for development via addition and alteration.
We want that this glossary to become a space as well where we can move between the different languages without losing the specificity and the strength of each one.