Tunisian-Finnish multimedia artist Dora Dalila Cheffi relocated to Tunisia a little over a year ago and has already unveiled her first solo exhibition, “Bitter Oranges,” which will run until March 14.
After obtaining her BA from Finland’s Aalto University of Art, School and Design in 2018, with a minor in sculpting and painting, Cheffi went on to showcase her works in group exhibitions at institutions and fairs, including Habitare and Galerie Kajaste Helsinki.
When asked how it felt to see her first solo exhibition open, Cheffi was characteristically positive: “It feels really nice,” she shared us.
A testament to the artist’s versatility, the month-long showcase is divided into four components that highlight different mediums: Paintings, ceramic pieces, a video documentary and a sound installation that she calls her most personal work.
The auditory installation, “Finlandia,” which is inspired by Cheffi’s mixed Tunisian and Finnish roots, is a thought-provoking exploration of the complexity of dual identity, a core theme of the exhibition.
The piece takes the Finnish National Hymn, originally composed by Jean Sibelius, and translates it to Tunisian Arabic. It’s sung in a traditional “Mawwal” style, which is a popular Arabic music genre that is known for its slow and sentimental nature and is characterized by prolonging syllables.
Also on show is a series of beautifully hand-made ceramics that the artist learnt how to make while spending a week with pottery-makers from the Tunisian town of Sejnane, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The artist spent afternoons grinding rock into powder and kneading fresh clay with her feet before heating the ceramics on an open hearth fired with dried cow dung and decorating them with seashells collected from the shores of the Mediterranean. The Amazigh-inspired pieces are accompanied with a 10-minute documentary that details the process.
Meanwhile, a selection of brightly-colored paintings celebrate the everyday, depicting “people and things” from the artist’s “day to day life.”
For Cheffi, art doesn’t have to be constrained to one medium, in the same way the artist has the ability to embrace her multiple cultures and identities. “I love the fact that I don’t have to commit to one specific technique. I can explore different materials and ways of creating,” she mused, before revealing “Balancing my very different Finnish and Tunisian cultures is something that I’ve struggled with. But in my artwork, they seamlessly mesh together.”