Safeguarding the traditional art of glassblowing:

Interview with Sadika Keskes

 Sadika Keskes is a Tunisian designer and glassblowing artist. Throughout her career she has remained committed to promoting the art of glassblowing through leading training initiatives for young artists, and establishing cultural centres and associations focused on promoting the rich traditions of women artisans, particularly in rural Tunisia.

UNESCO: Have there been particular people or influences that have inspired you in your life as an artist? Have women artists been a source of inspiration? Has your chosen path been supported and encouraged by your family and those around you?

Keskes: Coming from a family of artisans and artists, I made my choice when I was very young. My father was particularly supportive and my mother was proud of my work even if she feared the evil eye (a popular superstition). When I was young, I was very influenced by women artisans and the creative atmosphere in our family home. My mother and my aunts were all craftswomen or designers. The joy of living - of creating, the happiness of being together, of sharing, and the songs that would accompany these times of creation – has remained a philosophy that still follows me today.


How would you define your work? What are your major cultural inspirations?

At the core is a way of life in search of beauty in all its meanings. My cultural inspirations are primarily my living environment and the spaces of my childhood: a basic Borj, the discovery of cultures, Carthage, A Thousand and One Nights told by my mother, and so on.


Could you describe your artistic training, your journey to Murano, and your return to Tunisia? What advice would you give to young women artists?

My training began as a child, thanks to a great freedom of play and open spaces that allowed me to use my body and my hands. The stories told by my mother greatly influenced me, and opened up a space of imagination and dreams. Thereafter, it was school, high school and the School of Fine Arts in Tunis. Murano was an opportunity for me to perfect the technique necessary to perform my art. My advice to young women artists is to position themselves as artists, no more, no less. Their work will speak for itself.


Could you describe your career - the evolution of your artistic career, establishing a studio, and the exhibition of your work? What are the challenges that women have to face to position themselves as leaders in their profession as artists?

My career began as a teacher in the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, and at this time I moved into my first studio. Over the years, I’ve changed studios four times, but it has always been to go towards something better. I am currently based in Gammarth. It is a cultural centre with a studio for glass blowers, but there is also an art gallery open to other artists, a multipurpose room, a small outdoor theatre, four artists' studios, an exhibition room, the administration and my house. Two years ago, I opened a similar small space in Crete with an art gallery and shop, and soon there will be one in Marrakech. Working is the path to success, even in the fields of artistic creation.

Today I think Tunisia is on the way to creating a new mode of governance, and it’s a process that I fully support. Youth movements, hungry for knowledge, organized a passive resistance at the level of each individual, for the good of all. ‘Traditional politics’ felt out-dated. People must be at the centre of everything.


How do you link your professional life with your political engagement with women? Could you describe your actions and share your hopes for women artists in Tunisia?

My professional life results from a struggle based on a belief. For example, I did not choose to work alone in my studio, I chose to train young people in the profession of glass blowing. I believed in the renaissance of this art in my country. I have never stopped organizing cultural activities where I live and work, and I finance them through my company, even when the situation is difficult financially. I have always believed in cultural richness and artistic vitality, and have devoted all my energy to the service of safeguarding a traditional way of working and of life. My cultural heritage and my surroundings have always inspired me.

I created the association ‘Women, Show Your Muscles’ two years ago. New spaces of freedom opened up due to the revolution, so it was the moment for me to act to retain this. My daughter and I went to meet with underprivileged people, to whom the dictatorship had imposed very difficult living conditions. Despite these years of neglect, they had miraculously kept an extraordinary richness of knowledge, arts and popular traditions (a true living museum). It is this richness that I wanted to highlight so that these communities - particularly rural women, who are the pillars of the Tunisian society - can live with dignity in their work. These women artisans have influenced widespread works, such as those by Paul Klee, and have the right to be recognized. My work is dedicated to that purpose.





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