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Of Laws Tattooed in Flesh: Street Poetry, Hip-hop, and Graffiti and the Contest for Public Space in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

  • Author(s): Palma, Agatha Evangeline
  • Advisor(s): Hale, Sondra
  • Gana, Nouri
  • et al.
Abstract

The 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution brought many Tunisians who had lived their entire lives under authoritarian regime out onto the streets for the first time in protest. Tunisians of all ages and social backgrounds participated, demanding the ousting of then-dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Since his ousting, Tunisian public life has witnessed a radical transformation: with individuals having earned new forms of expression once denied to them, public space is undergoing a process of renegotiation. At the same time, public art created by young, politically- minded Tunisians is surging in popularity: street poetry meetings, graffiti, and YouTube- produced hip hop recordings have exploded onto a brand-new scene of highly accessible public art. In this thesis, I examine several of the various art forms that have become the means for young Tunisians to reclaim public space. However, I argue that the Tunisian public sphere is divided into various counterpublics, wherein various factions of Tunisian society oppose one another's claim to public space. As art has historically been an important political tool for counterculture movements, I examine the production and spread of street poetry, hip-hop, and graffiti, and consider the ways in which Tunisia's various political factions contest and intersect in public space. I argue that post-revolutionary Tunisian public space is not simply in the process of being reclaimed by the so-called public from the state - rather, I argue that Tunisia's public sphere is divided into counterpublics, wherein public space has become an ongoing political contest.

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