The Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia, is considered one of the largest museums on the African continent and one of the most beautiful in the world. Ten years after the Tunisian revolution on 14 January 2011, five years after the horrific attack on 18 March 2015 in Bardo and one year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, what are the museum’s challenges today? Interview with FatmaNaïtYghil, historian, archaeologist, Roman specialist and director of the Bardo National Museum.
RFI: Which is the unique site of the Bardo Museum National?
FatmaNaïtYghil:It is unique for its rich collection of mosaics, and in addition to the extreme beauty of the representations, it provides access, represented by the image, to what is confirmed in the written sources, the literary sources, the epigraphic sources. Hence its significance for scientists, archaeologists and historians. This iconography represents practically all the themes that marked beliefs, religions, pagan, Jewish, Christians, Muslims, the daily life of Roma Africans, such as leisure activities, etc.
All the exhibited archeological objects have been discovered on Tunisian soil at the various archeological sites: from north to south, dating from prehistoric times, the Punic, Roman, vandal, Byzantine, Islamic and modern period …
In addition, the monument itself, a Beylisk and therefore royal palace with extreme Mediterranean-Arabic-Muslim architectural beauty. A beautiful blend of different civilizations that made this museum an identity: the history and memory of the Tunisians.
VOur museum offers a tour of the museum’s 101 masterpieces. What is”Mona Lisa»Du Bardo?
The museum’s “Mona Lisa” is the large mosaic currently on display in the hall, that of Neptune’s Triumph[l’une des plus grandes dans toute l’Afrique, ndlr].
In 2005, the Bardo Museum hosted another 500000 visitors in 2011 around 200000, and in 2015, the year of the attack, only 40000 visitors. How many recordings did you record in 2019 and 2020?
The number of visitors had increased in 2018. In 2019, we were almost at the level of 2014, which is a benchmark for us because it precedes the year of attack. With the crisis, the public is almost From time to time we have a few visitors from Western and Eastern Europe, Poles, Russians, Croats … Before the crisis, we had many visitors from Asia, Chinese, Japanese, South Korean in addition to Europeans. With the pandemic that has affected museums around the world, the situation has become catastrophic. We no longer organize major cultural or archaeological events such as temporary exhibitions. Otherwise, I took advantage of this time of crisis to organize an important department at the museum that has extraordinary treasures. Something that could not have been done in normal times.
Many museums are currently looking for new models.Pompidou Centerdeveloped a video game,Louvre Museumorganized an online auction of original tours. Tate Modern in the UK and JoburgContemporaryArtFoundationSouth Africaoffer sessions ofSlowLooks, a visit with a very limited number of visitors and working on looking at. What has changed at the Bardo Museum after the changes caused by Covid-19?
We are heavily dependent on digital tools such as social networks, the website and virtual tours.
Likeof your proposal for a virtual visit toGoogle Arts & Culture?
There are various virtual tours, especially for the main rooms, centerpieces. The goal is to stimulate the visitors’ curiosity, create suspensions … We can not put everything in virtual tours, because our goal is to bring the visitor to the field and see the objects up close.
What is the purpose of your applicationBardo Up Museum?
Digital tools occupy an important place in the museum, and this since the initiatives launched on 15 May 2019, as part of the Heritage Month in Tunisia. Since then we have our own augmented reality application on smartphone and tablet, but this does not only concern about fifteen masterpieces There is also another service that we have developed: 3D printing of fifteen objects, four mosaics and eleven sculptures, for the blind and visually impaired, with Braille texts in Arabic, French and English.
Sinceattacked on 18 March 2015, The Bardo Museum has become a symbolic place of resistance and resilience. At the same time, Tunisia is often cited as the cradle of the Arab Spring. What is the most important thing that has changed for the Bardo Museum since the Jasmine Revolution, the Dignity Revolution of 2011??
Our goal, as researchers and intellectuals, is to send a message of peace and tolerance. Our work is based on scientific and cultural facts and is far from all political currents.
In December 2015, the Bardo Museum invited modern Tunisian artists to its walls for the first time. What is the museum’s relationship to contemporary art today??
We continued to invite contemporary art. In 2018 and 2019, there were two contemporary art exhibitions. One was performed with a museum of modern Italian art and the other exhibition with Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian artists. Today, the museum must be a place of culture and not just a place to exhibit archeological objects.
In the past, the Bardo Museum has often collaborated with the Louvreen France Museum. What are your partnership projects with museums or institutions on the African continent?
We work primarily with France. We have projects on Roman sculpture that are still ongoing: one with the Louvre Museum and the other with the University of Paris-IV-Sorbonne for scientific and reasoned study of sculpture. The Louvre Museum is primarily about restoring and training Tunisian skills in this area, and we have a project with the Musem in Marseille and the Rouen Museum regarding the Salammbô exhibition …
With Italy we have arranged several temporary exhibitions at the Bardo Museum and in Italy with the Uffizi Museum in Florence, the Archaeological Park in the Colosseum in Rome, the National Museum in Cagliari … And we also have a project in collaboration with the National Museum in China.
As far as Africa is concerned, so far we have only had talks with Senegal on the occasional exchange of experience in archaeological work, excavations, scientific programs and temporary exhibitions with the Dakar Museum. But so far we have not done anything official.
In 2018, the French president launched a majordebate on the return of African heritage. Is the Bardo National Museum or other museums in Tunisia affected by the question??
I have no official information on this subject. This issue is complex and needs to be formally addressed through the Foreign Ministries of the two countries.
What is your vision for the Bardo Museum in 2030?
I hope that this pandemic has disappeared into oblivion and that we and all the museums in the world will have found our audience. My biggest wish is first and foremost that the Bardo Museum gets its economic autonomy and that it always keeps its influence and its position among the best museums in the world. May it preserve its noble calling of tolerance, to live together and always be a high place in the memory of all mankind.
►The official site of the Bardo National Museum, Tunisia