Living under a dictatorial regime has its drawbacks, one of the worst of which is the lack of freedom of expression. Tunisia and North Korea competed for the number one spot in the “Repression” rankings. Why buy a newspaper when the same nonsense spewed forth day in and day out? Information went through secondary channels, especially the téléphone arabe (gossip), which could be surprisingly accurate thanks to a persistent oral culture coexisting with a more easily controlled written culture. In oral traditions, the sources are important. Here's how it works (fill in the blanks):
Tunisian 1: I heard that Ben Ali Baba & his 400 thieves went to__ and did__.
Tunisian 2: Well, here's what I heard that Ben Ali Baba did, he ___.
Tunisian 1: What's your source?
Tunisian 2: My source is___.
Tunisian 1: Well, my source is better, it's___.
So whoever produces the best source, the source closest to the story, wins. It's a self-correcting mechanism that works amazingly well. By the way, the last dictator's name is Ben Ali. I couldn't resist the "Ali Baba and his 40 thieves" reference.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV were all affected. Graduating lycée (high school) students--who are assigned their major and campus--listed journalism toward the end of their preferences, if not their last choice. They were to be pitied if assigned to journalism. In the universities, the regime’s heavy-handed policies tainted intellectual circles as well. Knowledge was adulterated while history was erased and re-written. Everyone knew what had to be said to keep a job—or what could not be said. The arts of innuendo and self-censorship became second nature. And if you were not a member of the one ruling party, then your chances for promotion in your career became nil, unless you were self-employed.
And so, I began to wonder about the proverb referring to the pen and the sword. Would “Might is Right” win the day? However, being a rather straightforward and uncomplicated person (right is right and wrong is wrong), I continued to believe in Truth and channeled my indignation into an art quilt.
The Pen (April 1996, 36"x50", 90cmx1m24), machine pieced and quilted, hand embroidered. The idea for the image of the pen developed from some cards I had drawn.
I had been playing with dots and spirals as a design element.
For those who know something about embroidery, the pen is made of hundreds of French knots, just French knots. I carried this project around with me for three years...and haven't done a French knot since. (To be continued)