Selma & Sofiane Ouissi

Choreographers, dancers, and curators Selma and Sofiane Ouissi (b. 1975 and 1972, Tunis) are sister and brother. They have been creating and dancing together since the beginning of their careers. Graduates of the Conservatory of Music and Dance and of the National Centre of Dance, in Tunis, and holders of the French State diploma of dance, they are considered major figures in contemporary dance in the Arab world.

The duo’s personal creations include STOP ... BOOM (2004) and Waçl (2007), which have been programmed several times in Arab countries and in Europe. In collaboration with digital-arts creator Yacine Sebti, they have realised the choreographic piece Here(s) & Les yeux d’Argos I & II: all the three creations remotely and in real time using Skype. It has been touring since 2011. That same year, they produced a choreographic film inspired by the work of the female potters of Sejnane, which was shown at the Paris Triennale in the Palais de Tokyo, the David Roberts Art Foundation in London, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the New Museum in New York, the Garage Triennial in Moscow, MSK in Gent, etc. Continuing their research into the ancestral gestures of the Sejnane artisans, they responded to an invitation for a new creation on the occasion of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture in 2013, with a choreographic/documentary piece entitled Laaroussa. This work, at once choreographic, anthropological, and poetic, based on the gesture of the potters, has been shown at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, La Bâtie – Festival de Genève, Zürcher Theater Spektakel, Bonlieu Scène nationale d’Annecy, and other events. As part of their Performing Room project, Tate Modern in London invited the pair to create Les Yeux d’Argos (2014), a choreographic piece at a planetary scale for an audience of Internet users.

Given the success of this collaboration, Tate Modern invited them to rethink the concept for the Do Disturb festival at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in April 2015. In 2015 - 2017, they created the protocol Le moindre geste in « Frac Lorraine de Metz ». From 2017 to 2019, Le moindre geste was created in Brussels (Kunstenfestivaldesarts), Gent (MSK) and Marseille (Festival de Marseille). Le moindre geste highlights the life stories of people living on the fringes of the dominant discourse. This installation-performance combines video, movement, and drawing. With it, the artists invite us to meet these invisible citizens through gestures and empathy. The body is traversed as a memory site of experiences, as a living archive. The gestures of the other are transformed collectively. In 2020, they created from the story of Wejdan, a Syrian refugee met in Metz, a video with five female artists from Tunis, Beyrouth, Damas, Cairo, Brussels and Sao Paulo, presented in the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi and in festival de Marseille (2021). Selma et Sofiane continue the work with the life stories, presenting The minor gesture at Bijloke Wonderland festival in Gent in 2021. In collaboration with les ballets C de la B they are preparing the next step L’opéra du geste, creating an echochamber in which these different bodies, gestures and stories, resonate with each other and with the lives of others.

In 2007 Selma & Sofiane Ouissi chose to act differently and explore the boundaries of what art can do, and what can be constructed through arts and culture in Tunisia. With ‘Dream City’, they chose to create an inclusive festival concept, involving a wide range of artists, thinkers and activists, and exploring collaborations with very diverse participants, and on different locations (co-creations with local communities, long-term contextual work, investing unconventional spaces). The aim being to establish a space of free expression and creativity, but also to allow for exchange and even pleasure in the common struggle for a democratic Tunisia. In ‘Dream City’ every culture gesture also has a political dimension. ‘Dream City’ happened in Tunisia every two years since 2007; ‘antenna’ editions were also set up in Marseille in 2013 (in the framework of the European Capital of Culture), and in London in partnership with the Shubbak Festival in 2017.

Selma and Sofiane went on to create the Tunisian structure ‘L’Art Rue’, dedicated to artistic gestures that aim for social and political transformation. It is within this structure where artistic disciplines meet, and intersect with academic reflection, that ‘Dream City’ has continued to evolve, that the cultural magazine ZAT (Temporary Artistic Zone) was developed, that a rich programme of support for artists from the Arab world and Africa was established, while at the same time putting in place an ambitious programme for cultural education in elementary schools all over Tunisia.

update 07/2021

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© Sofie De Backere