Everywhere you turn in Er-Riadh, there’s art. It’s everywhere. The ancient village on the Tunisian island of Djerba, has spent the last several months of high summer being slowly transformed from a sleepy, traditional little corner of North Africa that has never heard of street art, into a world stage for one of the most vibrant and ambitious street art projects ever imagined.
“It’s true that life has changed here, the village has changed and it’s a good thing,” says an elderly villager resting in the shadows of a weathered turquoise doorway. “We prefer that our country evolves, it’s better for us. I am for the change; the evolution. And I hope it will continue.”
Welcome to Djerbahood…
Parisian gallery owner, Mehdi Ben Cheikh is a busy guy. Before he decided to paint this little town red (and all the other colours in the rainbow) he had only just finished his widely publicised Tour 13 project, which you might recall, saw 100 artists from around the world paint a derelict 10-story apartment building on the Seine scheduled for demolition.
Since June, he’s been orchestrating the incredible transformation of Er-Riadh, welcoming his hand-picked street artists from more than thirty countries across the world to adorn the walls of this village with their work.
But of course Mehdi and the 150 street artists didn’t just descend upon this remote community with their cans of paint and begin painting whichever crumbling old façade that they felt like. Before anything, the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism had to authorize the project. Djerbahood also needed funding, which was raised with several commercial sponsors in France and Tunisia.
Next, the major of Djerba had to give his approval for the artists to paint on public property. Some of the art works were done on the walls of cemeteries, schools and even the village’s town hall. Lastly, the Djerbahood project made sure to get the blessings from every homeowner in the village. Only then could the art begin the evolution of this unlikely canvas.
Artists came in shifts throughout the summer, residing in the village while they finished their work. Residents who have lived on the island their whole lives have spent their summer speaking with street artists from opposite continents, learning about each other’s cultures. The last group of artists has left Er-Riadh but they certainly aren’t the last visitors this ancient village will be seeing. The villagers of Er-Riadh are proud and eager to welcome the new visitors that will come from all over the world to discover their revamped street-art ‘hood’.
“When I saw the images on the internet, I thought it was great,” another villager tells the camera that documented the Djerbahood project. “Tunisians love culture, we’re a cultured people … It will help tell people about our village.”