Meriam Bousselmi

Staging (In)Justice

In her dissertation project, Meriam Bousselmi aims to study the (Mis)(Re)presentations of justice / injustice on stage as well as in drama from a transcultural perspective.

Although several scholars in law as well as in performance studies have demonstrated that there are certain undeniable similarities between justice and theatre, only a limited amount of scholarly attention has been devoted to explore the strategies of staging justice / injustice in theatre and in performative sets. Indeed, many scholars have often questioned the performativity of making justice in the courtroom by analysing the play of trial and the theatricality of the judicial ritual. However, there is a lack of research on exploring how performances of justice have been (re)presented or (re)-enacted on the stage. Despite the fact that many theatre-makers often turn to the tribunal cases for dramatic energy. Thus, theatrical performances which stage courtroom scenes, (re)present justice cases, and (re)situate trials in a theatrical or playful context, are frequent. Since the early Greek tragedy, courtroom spectacles of tragic-comic injustices have become familiar sources of entertainment.

The dissertation interrogates the ways justice is construed and constructed in contemporary performing context. It aims to enhance current research by arguing that theatremakers have not only reproduced courtroom scenes on stage but they have also stimulated and provoked new thinking about justice. Staging injustice or unstaging justice in contemporary theatre were often set to confront the loss of values and the corruption of state institutions by deconstructing the justice system in order to reconstruct a « fairness » alternative. In fact, justice should not be mixed with rules. Rules are only a forensic system of making justice in a particular context or culture. While justice is a value, a human capacity. And theatre-makers are often pointing out that « legal » doesn’t mean « fair ». Therefore, it’s important to investigate contemporary theater makers’ role in challenging justice foundations and practices in Arab, Western, cross-border and transcultural contexts.

The dissertation also aims to question how lawyers and their counterparts (jurists, activists and artivists) stage mock trials to tell or to contest a certain narrative of (In)Justice. A “moot court” or “mock trial” are performative events where pleadings and complaints are simulated according to a hypothetical set of facts. The outcome could be considered as a kind of "legal fictions".

By examining selected examples of legal fictions, drama texts, theatre productions in different contexts and cultures, Meriam Bousselmi attempts to understand the underperforming, overperforming and outperforming of justice from a transdisciplinary point of view. She opens up a special focus on the performative dimension of justice and allows it to be analysed as an aesthetic practice. Questions of spectatorship, witnessing and other judicial practices will be closely observed and analysed, which show the social significance of the study beyond a narrow theatre studies context.

 

About

Meriam Bousselmi born 1983 in Tunis, studied law and political science at the University of Tunis Carthage. She is a bilingual Arabic-French writer, director, lawyer, lecturer, researcher and bridge builder. As part of her PhD thesis at the University of Hildesheim, she is researching the strategies of staging (in)justice from a transcultural perspective. She is also exploring the connections between theatre and justice in her artistic works.

In 2010, she completed a Master thesis which broke a social taboo in Tunisia by addressing “The recognition of same-sex partnerships in private international law”. Her Master thesis, originally written in French, was supervised by Prof. Dr Hamadi Redissi and was distinguished with the high classification (15/20) along with a special commendation from the jury.

In 2014, she defended her lawyer thesis on the financial situation of dramatic artists and the outdated Tunisian law on the protection of intellectual property. For her critical and innovative dissertation entitled: “The Protection of playwrights' pecuniary rights”, originally written in Arabic under the supervision of the specialist lawyer for media law, intellectual property law and criminal law Maître Nafaa Laribi, Meriam Bousselmi was awarded the Prize for the Best Conference at the end of the Legal Internship at the National Order of Lawyers of Tunisia.

In 2015, she took part in the Committee for the Elaboration and Drafting of “Carthage Declaration for the Protection of Artists in Vulnerable Situations” together with her co-authors: Prof. Dr. Hamadi Redissi and Prof. Dr. Lassaad Jamoussi.

Since 2017, she has regularly collaborated with the Hildesheim UNESCO Chair ARTS RIGHTS JUSTICE PROGRAM to lead workshops, write research papers and support actions to consolidate international cooperation in the field of cultural diversity and artistic freedom. Since 2017, she has also collaborated as an independent consultant and curator with Safe Havens and Freedom Talks (SH|FT), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of artists at risk and artistic freedom.

In July 2020, she was selected as a research associate at the International Doctoral College "Kulturvermittlung / Cultural Mediation of Art". And obtained a DFH mobility grant to conduct research in Paris and Tunis on the question: "Staging Moot Courts to Reinvent Justice in France and Tunisia".

Since the end of June 2022, Meriam Bousselmi has been a research assistant at the DFG (German Research Foundation) Research Training Group "Aesthetic Practice" at the Institute for Media, Theater and Popular Culture of the University of Hildesheim.

 

Artistic Practice

In her artistic practice, Meriam Bousselmi combines the most diverse forms of storytelling: literary texts, theatre productions and performative installations. Through ongoing thought-provoking work, she is constantly looking to provide fresh insights into a range of politicized topics surrounding social, political and economic inequalities. Her productions address the topic of instrumentalization, labelization and victimization in the construction of the current dominant intercultural narratives. She is interested in using the​ blank page and the​ stage as ​spaces for Dialogue and Resistance to all forms of political and cultural reduction and manipulation. She defends an approach able to reveal the complexity and intensity of individual and collective experiences.

From 2002-2007 she worked as a playwright and director at the A.R.A.F. Center (Arab-African Center for Theatre Training and Research at El Hamra Theatre) in Tunis.

2016-2017, Meriam Bousselmi was invited to a 12-month artistic residence in Berlin as part of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin program. She decided then to settle in the German capital. In her new projects, the Tunisian writer and director seeks to develop her artistic work within the framework of her new context and dynamics of her immigration. She creates transcultural projects which question the notions of dialogue, translation, transfer of knowledge and experiences between languages ​​and cultures. She wrote and directed “A Look at the World” in 2017, a 50-minute performance in total darkness that explores the sources of hope and resistance. In 2019, she wrote and directed the monologue “HomeWord” which deals with the need for poetry and the power of words by exploring the biography of German poet Hilde Domin. In 2020, she wrote and directed “The Beauty in Between” which questions the limits of translation and the possibilities of communication in what she calls the “jungle of languages”. Because words don’t just tell History, they make it.

 

Publications (Selection)

A Look at the World. Play. Translation: Salma Riahi. International Performing Rights Ltd, London 2017.

What the Dictator Didn't Say. Monodrama. Translation: Salma Riahi. International Performing Rights Ltd, London 2016.

Sin of Success. Play. Translation: Salma Riahi. International Performing Rights Ltd, London 2013.

Mémoire en retraite (Retiring memory). Play. Translation : Leila Chammaa and Youssef Hijazi. Hartmann & Stauffacher Verlag. Cologne 2012.

Truth Box. Play. Translation: Silvio D'Allesandro. Hartmann & Stauffacher Verlag. Cologne 2013.

Brouillon de vie (A Life's Draft). Interactive Novel.  Sud Editions. Tunis, 2007.

 

Teaching

Summer Semester 2021 - Staging (in) justice
https://lsf.uni-hildesheim.de/qisserver/rds?state=verpublish&publishContainer=lectureContainer&publishid=90329

Winter Semester 2018/19 - Staging (in) justice
https://lsf.uni-hildesheim.de/qisserver/rds?state=verpublish&status=init&vmfile=no&moduleCall=webInfo&publishConfFile=webInfo&publishSubDir=veranstaltung&veranstaltung.veranstid=74387&expand=161533

 

 

Essays and Articles (Selection)

“Arts Education. A waste of time and taxpayers’ money?”, in: Wolfgang Schneider, Yvette Hardie, Emily Akuno, Daniel Gad (Hg.): Cultural Policy for Arts Education / African-European Practises and Perspectives, Berlin 2022: Peter Lang Verlag, S. 269-280, Online Access: https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/53921/9783631866801.pdf?sequence=1

“When the artist claims to be "his own government"- On Artists’ Voices in the Making of Cultural Policies”, in: Daniel Gad, Katharina M. Schröck, Aron Weigl (Hg.):  Forschungsfeld Kulturpolitik - eine Kartierung von Theorie und Praxis. Festschrift für Wolfgang Schneider, Hildesheim 2019, Georg Olms Verlag, S. 207-216, Online Access: https://hildok.bsz-bw.de/files/951/Forschungsfeld-Kulturpolitik.pdf

„Le Tarmac, un théâtre victime de la théâtrocratie ? “, in Nawat, 22 Februar 2018, Online Access: https://nawaat.org/2018/02/22/le-tarmac-un-theatre-victime-de-la-theatrocratie/

„Eineinhalb Frauen? über Sprache und Feministischen Widerstand“, Beitrag zur deutsch arabischen Debattenreihe über Feminismus in Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem FANN Magazin und dem Gunda-Werner-Institut für Feminismus und Geschlechterdemokratie, Berlin 2019, Online Access: https://www.gwi-boell.de/de/2019/04/03/eineinhalb-frauen-ueber-sprache-und-feministischen-widerstand

„Das Unüberschreitbare überschreiten - Künstler in der Auseinandersetzung mit Grenzen“, in: Ilse Fischer, Johannes Hahn (Hg.), Europa neu denken Band 5: Brücken bauen zwischen Nationen und Kulturen in eine neue Welt, Salzburg 2018, Verlag Anton Pustet Salzburg, S. 155-177.

„Theatre When Everything is Theatricalized “, in Goethe-Institut, ART&THOUGHT / FIKRUN WA FANN 103,  München 2015, S.49 – 55.

 

Lectures / Podiums / Workshops (Selection)

"Montaigne's head and Aesop's tongue", a Lecture in the frame of the Symposium on Artistic Interventions in educational and social contexts: An event of the Certificate Course "Artistic Interventions in Cultural Education" at the University of Hildesheim, funded by Stiftung Mercator, Friday, 8th July - Saturday, 9th July 2022 at the University of Hildesheim

Speaker at the UNESCO Chair Workshop Hildesheim: Reflecting and Re:Starting South North Cooperation and Collaboration: Needs and Desires of Sub-Saharan-Arab-European Cultural Policies, UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development" at University of Hildesheim, 7 July 2022

'The Mergoum Protocol: Typically Tunisian, (A)typically German? On Cross-Cultural Exchange', Lecture, CAMP Notes on Education, 9 December 2021, Documenta-Fifteen & UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development" | Universität Hildesheim

Consultant, curator and Moderator Safe Havens 2021's Majlis, A Cross-Cultural Digital Majlis-style Debate on Artistic Freedom perceptions and ongoing Challenges, December 2021

Co-moderator Ettijahat's digital conference - A Moment of Art, on "Creativity between Two Languages", November 2021.

Speaker at the symposium Cultural Politics Inside-Out: Contest of Narratives Postcolonial Debates and Questions of Transformation/ Institute of Cultural Politics at University of Hildesheim, October 2021.

Idea Sparker at the symposium Collective/Collecting Intelligence - Explorations of Artistic Intelligence A/I in the context of Artificial Intelligence (AI) - Digital Dramaturgy Lab, Supported by SSHRC Institutional Grant (SIG), offered by the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto in collaboration with UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development" | University of Hildesheim, 27 March 2021.

Consultant at the Prater Concept-Team 2019 - Berlin

Opening Keynote Safe Havens Conference Cape Town 2019

Chair of Workshop 5: Legal Defences for Creatives (MENA Case Studies)

"Togetherness!" - On the Aesthetics of Love, Lecture Performance & Discussion, in the Annual Conference 2019 'Republic of Love' by the 'Dramaturgical Society' in Jena.

Lecture-Discussion Montagstalk 2019 "Women and Revolution" at the Dresden State Theater

Lecture-performance "Culture, for what it's worth?", Atrium Association - dialogue through encounter / Giessen 2019

Literary talk with Ramy Al-Asheq at the House of Literature Berlin 2018

"Staging a body-based theory of justice ", a Lecture in the frame of Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre 2018.

Speaker and mentor at the "Arts Rights Justice Forum", UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development" | University of Hildesheim, 2018.

Speaker at "11th Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum" in Bonn 2018.

Speaker at "PEN World Voices Festival" in New York 2018.

Research Atelier "Cultural Policy and Arts Education ", organised by UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development at the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim in cooperation with the Bundesakademie für Kulturelle Bildung Wolfenbüttel and EDUCULT (Vienna, Austria) in Wolfenbüttel 2018.

Leader of the Masterclass: "Walking the World in French" with one hundred young people from three Frankfurt schools (Liebigschule, Pulling School and Lycée français) as part of the German-French Day, Institut franco-allemand de sciences Historiques et sociales, Francfort 2017.

Leader of the Workshop "Dramaturgies of Resistance" at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Dramaturgical Society.

Conception and Direction of the "Shakespeare Academy" an Academic International Exchange Program for 25 students in collaboration with University of Tunis, University of Hildesheim, University of Namur and Cairo University at the "Journées Théâtrales de Carthage" 2016.

Leader of the Masterclass "The Art of Dramatic Writing" at the Danish National School of Performing Arts Copenhagen 2016.

Speaker at the conference "Culture without Borders?" at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin 2016.

"Theatre and the Art of Disturbing the Public Order", a lecture at the second International Academic Forum in Cairo Academy of Arts, 2015.

Leader of the Workshop "Act Justice" at the Junges Deutsches Theater Berlin 2015.