Art is Sacred



Interview by: Gabriel Ruas Santos-Rocha

As the Tunisian youth rebelled against the system to fight for their
rights and reclaim their country, one of their most beautiful and
recognizable young faces was about to step into a public whirlwind of
her own. Kenza Fourati would become the first Arab model to ever be
featured in the best selling Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The
significance was immediately established by the magazine, which added a
political quote to Kenza’s introductory page. The response from the
media around the world, and especially from her own country, was
immediate. In the process, Kenza was to become one of the faces of that
young revolution.
Already an active participant in her country’s political struggles,
Kenza now had enough influence with the media to spread the word and
make more room for Tunisian issues across the planet. Very bold and
outspoken, the model was never discouraged by her critics, who often
created negative facebook groups or used Internet forums that spoke out
against her and her message. Kenza’s goal was clear – the model was
going to use her success and public persona to benefit her country and
raise awareness to what it has to offer the world, and to bring
attention to the arts and fashion.
While working relentlessly on putting together her fashion line
called By Kenz, (which will be launched in Tunisia during Tunis Fashion
Week in 2013) the model discovered other ways to connect the dots and
kill two birds with one stone. With a degree in French literature from
Sorbonne as well as lengthy studies in filmmaking, Kenza has a lot more
to share with the world than just her looks.
Gabriel Ruas Santos-Rocha: What lead you to the idea of bringing Tunisian artists to America?
Kenza Fourati: Pride probably. No one ever talks about my tiny country.
Yet it is shaking the face of the world. And I’m not talking only about
the Arab spring. When I walked around the Occupy Wall Street movements
I noticed several slogans inspired by the Tunisian uprising. After
revoking censorship, when the word became suddenly free, creativity
erupted. New York is the conjuncture for artists. I have the duty to
help building the bridge and exposing both of my worlds.
How do you expect to start bridging the gap between the East and the West?
The strongest weapon ever created is the Internet. There is no real
geography anymore, just cultures to share. So I decided to launch a
fashion blog this month that will also promote art and culture here and
How do you think Tunisia can benefit from the work you’re doing?
Tunisia is at an edge, it’s sculpting its destiny, its history; with the
fundamentalists trying to establish dogmas everywhere. I want to expose
people to new cultures, photography, etc.
Who are some of the artists who inspired you to start this work?
There are so many, but recently I met this young Graffiti artist called
MeenOne, who is truly fascinating. First by the way he looks; he has
dreadlocks. In Tunisia it is really rare to allow yourself to look
“marginal”. People aren’t used to it and you are confronted constantly
with harsh comments. Authorities will arrest you for questioning and so
on. The irony is that it used to be people with long beards who looked
suspicious. Then there is also the fact that he (MeenOne) grew up in a
poor region of the country ruled by the extremists. Actually, his
brother is a Salafist (Jihadist movement). MeenOne used to tag all over
the country wearing a mask and after the revolution he showed his face,
then he showed his work in an exhibit last June. The exhibit was
considered an insult to the sacred. Some fundamentalists called for his
death and it was his Salafist brother and the neighborhood he grew up in
that ended up protecting him. I didn’t know him personally at that
time, but I was stunned by what happened. For me, freedom is sacred
above everything, and so is art. So, I started looking for an artist to
work on an “Art is Sacred” theme for my website and my clothing line and
came across MeenOne, and I found him to be extremely talented. I had no
idea he was involved in the exhibit scandal at the time. I had already
become obsessed with Graffiti when I went to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil
and discovered Pamela Castro’s work.
And how will you bring that work over to the west?
First through my online platform, and later on I hope to bring it to
another level and allow some awesome art to be physically shown here.
How involved were you during the Tunisian revolution?
When the turmoil intensified I asked my family for their permission to
start publishing articles and videos connected to the subject and they
allowed me to do it. They really are the brave ones because the danger
was really for them. I got even more involved when my friend, who is an
activist, got arrested and disappeared. His wife reached out to me and
it was right at the beginning, on January 6th, 2011. I decided to stop
everything that I was doing and only focus on the history that was being
made in my country.
What about the revolution made you happy?
I felt infinitely proud. But I felt a kind of pride I had never felt
before. Pride is a very individualist feeling, but back then it was a
completely selfless collectively shared feeling of pride. I am quite
moved and amazed by it. This revolution belongs to all of us. We are the
Were you ever afraid of any negative religious or political backlash due to your participation in these movements?
At the time, yes I was afraid of the political backlash my family could
suffer. There was no question of religion at the time, but that problem
came later and is actually very current today.
What do you still expect to see happening for your country?
Democracy is still unfolding. We are navigating through what is accepted
and what is not, and having fundamentalists in power doesn’t help.
Do you feel that being a model was or still could be a problem for you in your country?
Yes, it sure is now, but it never used to be. I am extremely
controversial in the country as its been getting more and more
Is there anything you think you would do differently in your career?
Last year I shot a cover for a magazine wearing a bikini and my body was
covered by a Victor Hugo poem. I loved the idea and the poem preaching
love and tolerance, but the magazine edited it in an aggressively
provocative way and it delivered the wrong message. So yes, that would
be the only thing I would do differently. I was too naive back then.
How about your clothing line? What are the links with Tunisia there?
First of all I am manufacturing my entire collection locally. People may
not know that, but many of the great fashion houses like Giorgio Armani
and Zadig & Voltaire make their products in Tunisia. So I will be
using those same factories. The quality of my product is very important
and my main concern. I will also be launching my first collection during
Tunis Fashion Week in April of 2013.
Originally published on VAGA magazine.

Author: Gabriel Ruas Santos Rocha

writes for passion, eats for pleasure, travels for wonder.

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