BTOY via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
For decades, graffiti has been a punishable crime in Tunisia. So when Mehndi Ben Cheikh, the founder of Galerie Itinerrance in France, proposed that 150 artists invade the tiny white-walled village of Er-Riadh on the island of Djerba and coat the pathways in beautiful street art, he was understandably nervous. Somehow he pulled it off.
In 2014, Ben Cheikh recruited 150 artists from 30 different countries to take up residency on the island. Some masked the white and tan facades with traditional looking (faux) tile formations, blending their work into the architecture. Others let their work stand out, brightening the village with vibrant colors and imagery. Each artist stayed for only a few days, and groups rolled in and out over the course of the summer, preventing a massive influx of people all at once.
Of course, to get Djerbahood off the ground, he had to find sponsors and receive permission from the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism. He was then able to approach the island’s mayor and its residents to ask for approval. Ben Cheikh expected some hesitation from homeowners. Yet, according to a piece in The New York Times, even those initially opposed to the murals grew to like them.
While Djerba is a tourist destination, Er-Riadh is off the beaten path. But as Ben Cheikh told the Times, it's a source of inspiration because Christians, Muslims, and Jews have peacefully coexisted in the space for thousands of years. In turning Er-Riadh into an open-air museum, Ben Chiekh hopes to draw more attention to the sleepy village while creating a joyful gallery for everyone to explore. Indeed, it seems to be having an impact. All of the art can be seen on Djerbahood’s website, along with a series of webisodes about the installation. There's also a map [PDF] of the artwork that shows the full reach of the project.
Ben Chiekh's last street art collaborative project was Tour Paris 13. In 2013, more than 100 street artists took over a nine story dilapidated building in Paris, painting its interior and exterior before its impending demolition. Although the building has since been destroyed, it can be virtually explored on the Tour Paris 13 website.