TUNIS — Nadia Khiari is considering my question: what’s the artist’s job in a revolution? She was a successful French-schooled painter when the “Jasmin Revolution” caught fire in Tunisia in January last year. Her graffiti and political cartoons have gone viral on the Web since then, in the voice of her cat, “Willis in Tunis.” She has stopped painting altogether.
“For me it’s not a job. It’s a freedom. Like I’m being born. Before the revolution, I was a zombie. I think, but I cannot express myself. So I didn’t feel like I was alive. With the revolution I was born, like a baby. My first screaming was my drawing. And now for me its a revolution in my art, totally. I can finally express myself and say what I think and criticize the government. For me I can finally do my passion: cartoons.”
“Willis in Tunis” claws at the Islamist Ennahdhu party that dominates the new parliament elected last fall. Nadia doubts the government’s sincerity and its competence, but not that the revolution is still moving. “It’s not finished, it’s the beginning… We all have to learn what is democracy, how to have democracy in our own families — the father, the mother, the children, and then in the country. We lived 50 years in a dictatorship, so we will not learn in one year what is freedom of speech, what is freedom of mind, what is freedom of women. We are building it. It will take time. I am optimistic.”
Nadia is making connections (as Amin Maalouf did) between families and nations in the inner life of this “Arab Spring,” coming up on its second anniversary. “I know in my family, I had restrictions. My education was strict, but I knew that my family loved me. In this situation now the government wants to put restrictions, but I don’t think they love me…”
Will Tunisians fight for their freedom if it’s tested? “Yes, sure. You know, freedom is something so incredible. We all discover it. From one day to the other we were totally free and we could speak in the streets, in the cafe, of political things, and criticize the government and everything. And it is so good. So it will be very, very difficult to take it back. I don’t think — if they want — they could close our mouth…”
We thank her, and she shouts “Banzai!” as if to say, Hurrah for the Revolution.