In 2016, Myriam Bou-saha and the German/French channel Arte, went on a trip to meet a young tunisian tattoo artist: Manel Mahdouani. They followed her on her adventure in south Tunisia, a quest for meaning, art and heritage.
In Tunisia, there are only a few tattoo artists in the capital, and she is the only woman among them. Like the others, she has no official status, but her studio is crowded with customers in demand for ink.
Since the “wind of freedom” that blew on the country in January 2011, many hype youngsters are adopting tattoos. However, despite “a certain tolerance towards them, many people still refuse to hear about it”, regrets the artist.
Manel embodies the new generation of Tunisian women. After studying Psychology and Fine Arts, she started her apprenticeship for nearly 6 months and then began tattooing on her own before opening her first shop Agape Ink.
The majority of her clients are girls and the most popular tattoos are contemporary designs in vogue or borrowed from other cultures around the world. However, thanks to her research and passion regarding to amazigh tattooing techniques and history, her clients started asking for the Berber designs and symbols that she reproduces.
For Manel, tattooing is also a quest for meaning. The last generation wearing traditional Berber tattoos is our grandmothers’. In search of the true meaning of the traditional designs, Manel did not get the answers she hoped for in Tunis and decides to drive south to meet tattooed women and find the answers to her questions.
“The old ladies I met during filming know how to recognize a snake, scorpion or olive tree pattern,” says Manel Mahdouani. But the meaning, the symbolism of these tattoos escapes them, unfortunately.”
Parchment skins that no longer engage, ancestral language that mothers do not transmit anymore. This is the story of mute and painful that Manel wants to tell.
She does not describe herself as an activist of Amazigh rights. “I am rather curious about my story and my past. And I would like, at my modest level, help exhuming this repressed facet of the Tunisian culture. “
Watch the documentary
Manel Mahdouani took the road with her sketchbook, heading south to meet the latest tattooed Berber women.
Follow her in this beautiful documentary :