In the course of a family discussion a few years back, photographer Shiraz Bazin-Moussi spotted an error in Google Maps: Mellita Island, one of the Kerkannah Islands located off of the Tunisian coast, was missing from the map. For Bazin-Moussi, this omission (which was rectified after letters were sent to point out the error) was more than a simple factoid; it stirred up some of “her most precious memories.” She and her family had spent long summers in this archipelago, splitting their time between their small Parisian apartment and this timeless place, where she felt “totally free,” as Bazin-Moussi writes in her first monograph, L’écume des amnésies, published by Le bec en l’air.
In this work, conceived as “the idea of a postcard that one would send to tell someone how one is doing,” the photographer looks back at her Tunisian origins, and in particular at traces of her childhood, in search of images, encounters, places… “I made the trip with what I had left of a child’s way of looking and feeling, by far my most intense and joyful holiday memories. The adventure always began by piling up into a car: children, adults, and their poorly packed luggage. Wet towels were draped over car doors to blot out the scorching sun. There were endless discussions about who would sit by the window. I don’t know by what miracle we could fit nine people into a car designed for five. We were noisy, carefree, unfettered, and happy.”
Sometimes childhood can be rediscovered at a street corner, on a seashore, in a field of prickly pears, or in the drawings of a hand busy with kitchen chores, and then a whole world rushes back—a world of memories that the photographer can only dream of or reach with her eyes. She then captures these precious stolen moments, in order to hold on to them, as to an indelible trace, like in the title of one of her photographs: “Forget me not.” The prints made by the Fresson studio make the colors of the images seem timeless.
Mellita is said to have been the place of exile for adulterous women from the immediate entourage of beys, or Turkish chieftains. It is also said to have been former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba‘s refuge upon his escape from a French prison. Today the island is considered as the main springboard for migrants in Tunisia; but it remains above all an island of fishermen, “a territory wounded by history and delivered to the passage of time … a territory where one comes to seek freedom and forgetting.”
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
L’écume des amnésies, Shiraz Bazin-Moussi
Le bec en l’air
28€, 56 pages
Atelier L’Œil Vert
Exposition du 23 janvier au 13 mars 2021
12 Rue Léopold Bellan, Paris 2, France