The strange Tunisian bathhouse - memories




Gabriëlla Cleuren Art

October 26 · Issue #102 · View online

What I make, write, read, hear, see and visit as an expressive, spontaneous, systematic artist.

In 2011, from 10 to 24 September, I was invited for the third time to participate in the 9th edition of the “Festival des Arts plastiques”, organised by the City of Monastir in Tunisia. In total, I have visited and participated in this event 4 times.
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It was a strange feeling, an unknown world that opened up to me. When I was artist in residence in Monastir, I was asked if I would be interested in getting to know the bathhouse there. Curious as I was, and because of the infectious enthusiasm of their mayor, who told me how he visited such a bathhouse several times a week, met with his friends and enjoyed it together, it got a relaxed, warm human atmosphere for me. So I decided, along with other artists, to take a risk. First we had to pass the cash register, behind which a kind of veiled businesswoman was discussing the price with us. We reached an agreement and were led by a young Muslim woman, who was dressed entirely in brown, into a room with wall units and seat beds, where we were asked to move, or rather to get rid of ourselves entirely. After all, we were not initiated strangers. The habitual people put a towel over their private parts.
Then our way immediately led us to a bathhouse, where a platform on the wall was occupied by familiar visitors. I couldn’t suppress a laugh. They sat with their feet in a bucket of water, not exactly my idea of ​​a bathhouse. A faucet was opened and water flowed across the floor into the central room. I have tried from my companions, nothing unusual. My feet were now dangling in the seeping water. The walls and floors were covered with bright mosaics, blue and pink, sea green, a Persian garden full of aesthetics.
Pretty early on, we were asked into another room that looked dark blue. A heaven. The incredibly sophisticated Muslim art on the walls, floors, and stone walls gave the building a certain coolness. A gypsy woman, whose clothes and jewelry seem oriental, whose grip looks somewhat masculine and convincing, asks my Polish friend to lie down on the stone bed, where she is lathered, embalmed with scents from pots and finally rinsed off with a large gush of water.
Strange, an adult woman is washed here like a baby by her mother. Then it was my turn and one by one.
Then we could wrap the towel around us, and our brown-haired companion came to pick us up for the return trip to our clothes.
Strangely enough, she had joined us in the bathhouse, where the water ran, in a bathing suit, but sufficiently bare. Then why so veiled in the reception room?
A ritual in which on and off played a role, made sense?
All in all, an enriching experience in another world full of beauty, secrets and other customs.
Memories of Monastir 2021
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