A voyage of rediscovery

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the team at Musk and Amber Gallery in Tunis are delighted to be back building bridges and crossing borders through art, as Lamia Ben Ayed, founder and CEO, explains

With socialising and admiring art in person both off limits for much of the last two years, it was no surprise that the mood at the highly anticipated reopening of the Musk and Amber Gallery in Les Berges du Lac, Tunis, last October was one of celebration and optimism, much to the delight of its founder and CEO, Lamia Ben Ayed. “It was wonderful to see art enthusiasts and collectors getting together after such a difficult time,” she said. “You could tell that everyone was thrilled to have a reason to get dressed up, go out, view some wonderful exhibits up close and discuss them amongst themselves. We were reminded not only of what we’d all missed, but also of how art has the ability to reunite us.” 

There was certainly much to talk about at the relaunch exhibition, which was titled ‘Ode to Tarab’ and showcased a series of glorious, gold-peppered paintings by the multitalented Tunisian creative Alia Cherif Derouiche. Since then, Musk and Amber’s exciting schedule for the new season has gone from strength to strength, with ‘Jamboree’, a follow-on show of mixed media drawings by the talented Madrid-based artist Taher Jaoui, generating widespread interest, and a special, multidisciplined end-of-year event - ‘Les Voyageurs’ – bringing 2021 to a close. Commissioned by Wadi Mhiri, ‘Les Voyageurs’ was a significant project for the gallery on many levels, from the way in which it celebrated both the visual and performing arts by including dance and other musical attractions alongside the art exhibits, to the topical theme itself of travel, as Lamia explained. “The concepts of travelling and crossing borders are central to the Musk and Amber philosophy and ones we love to celebrate in all their forms,” she said. “We see the gallery as a bridge between artists, craftspeople and designers from around the world, where they can express themselves with absolute freedom, whatever their style, heritage or school of thought.” 

Lamia also has a longstanding personal passion for travel, having spent much of her childhood abroad, as the daughter of an ambassador, and studying Law and International Relations between Geneva and Paris, before returning to Tunisia. “I see myself as a citizen of the world and count myself as lucky to have had that nourishment, so building on that experience was very important to me,” she explained. 

‘Les Voyageurs’, organised in partnership with ‘Association Culturelle Illimitée’ (ACI), dovetails perfectly with the gallery’s outlook, featuring the work of talented creatives from a diverse range of countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Ukraine and Germany, who explore and interpret what have become highly relevant themes during the pandemic. 

Harnessing art’s ability to build bridges and highlighting the creative talent in the MENA region and farther afield were among Lamia’s aims when, seven years ago, she founded the Musk and Amber Gallery, which showcases a diverse mix of art and design pieces, including collectables and furniture, in a delightful loft-like setting. “I wanted to share the message that emotions are universal, from pain and sorrow to joy and happiness, and can be instantly felt or recognised when expressed through art, whatever our nationality,” she said. “Art is an ideal vehicle for fostering links and strengthening connections worldwide, from East to West, intra-regionally and internationally. It shows that we can make a beautiful dialogue without the need for visas!” 

Lamia admitted that the last two years have inevitably been challenging for the gallery, like most of the industry, with the pandemic sadly resulting in the postponement or cancellation of shows for much of 2020/2021. “Those were difficult times for the gallery, and for the artists and craftspeople themselves,” she explained. “Of course, we did our best to maintain momentum and interest, through social media and webinars, for example. We felt these exchanges were vital for the gallery and also to help keep our talented creatives inspired. In fact, it’s evident from the art we’re seeing now that the pandemic has generated a new wave of highly significant and very expressive work.” 

Expanding on this theme, Lamia noted that being forced to retreat or embark on a period of introspection had seemingly led to some artists taking their creativity in a new direction. “I think the pandemic has resulted in more intense work, in which producers, especially the new generation of artists, are asking searching questions or envisaging events from the future,” she said. “Interestingly, it hasn’t always led to more negativity in the art itself, rather heightened expression and emotion, which could be frustration or pain, but also hope.” 

There is now plenty to look forward to on the Musk and Amber calendar, including an exciting show scheduled for mid-February by the talented Ukrainian photographer and artist Iulia Nosar, which will bring the Renaissance and contemporary eras together in the most intriguing of ways. “Looking ahead, visitors can expect to find exhibitions celebrating a diverse mix of themes, styles and works from around the globe in the way they’ve come to expect from Musk and Amber and which reaffirm our values,” Lamia said.

For more information, go to muskandambergallery.com

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