Can art form a platform for civil rights?

The Tempest Society

Bouchra Khalili

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Three individuals from different backgrounds form a group in Athens to examine the current state of Greece and Europe from a theatre stage, approached as a space of the civic and collective art form. Their theatrical experiment is captured on film by the Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili. They name themselves The Tempest Society to pay homage to Al Assifa (‘The Tempest’ in Arabic), a theatre group active in Paris in the 70s that invented the format of a ‘theatrical newspaper’. Composed of immigrant workers and French students, Al Assifa addressed the daily struggle against inequality and racism in France. 40 years after, the forgotten legacy of Al Assifa finds a site for reactivation in Greece.


Background information

The Tempest Society (2017) by the Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili is a video triptych exploring collective performative practices. The film is set in Athens, where Khalili collaborated with three non-actors to develop collectively a series of scenes addressing various situations epitomizing the crisis of democratic representation and a potential new collective to come into being.

To do so, they take inspiration from artistic strategies of Al Assifa, a (now) largely forgotten theatre group from Paris forned in 1972 by a group of North-African workers and French activists. Adressing issues of racism and struggle for equality, Al Assifa started out as a weekly Arabic newspaper, to later be turned into a 'theatrical newspaper', combining  series of short performances and invitations to the audience members to tell their own stories on the stage. The group eventually dissolved in 1978 as a result of internal differences of opinion, partly caused by the tension between political activism and artistic ambitions. 

In The Tempest Society, Khalili interrogates: How to form a collective? How art can form civic spaces? Through her art, Khalili focuses on the interaction of language and subjectivity, as well as articulation between singular positions and collective voice. Examples of this are the video works The Straight Stories Project (2006-2008) and The Mapping Journey Project (2008-2011), which focus on the alternative geography produced by forced illegal travels The Tempest Society was commissioned for Documenta 14 (Kassel and Athens, 2017) and the Holland Festival will give its Dutch premiere. 



The Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili (Casablanca, 1975) studied film at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and visual arts at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy. She lives and works in Berlin and Oslo. Khalili uses a wide range of media, such as film, video, installation, 

photography and prints. Her practice focuses on language, subjectivity, and self-representation to investigate discourses and strategies of resistance as developed by members of minorities. Khalili's art has been exhibited at various prestigious art institutions, such as The Mapping Journey Project at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2016), Foreign Office at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2015), Garden Conversation at MACBA (Barcelona, 2015), Europe: The Future of History at the Kunsthaus (Zurich, 2015), Here & Elsewhere at the New Museum (New York, 2014), Positions at the Vanabbe Museum (Eindhoven, 2014), and The Encyclopedic Palace, International Exhibition of the 55th Venice Biennale (2013). She also participated to the 18th Sydney Biennale (2012) and the 10th Sharjah Biennale (2011). Khalili is a Professor of Contemporary Art at the Kunsthøgskolen in Oslo. She is also a co-founder of the non-profit artists' association La Cinémathèque de Tanger devoted to promoting film culture in North Africa.


Focus: democracy

This year several festival artists are looking at the problems faced by Western democracies. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville admired democracy for its social equality. He saw its dangers too. Director Romeo Castellucci is making La Democrazia in America, based on De Tocqueville’s eponymous book 

(1835). In The Gabriels director Richard Nelson reflects on the recent American election year through the eyes of an ordinary family. Other artists focus on controversies in democracies, such as the issue of refugees in directors Dieudonné Niangouna and Thomas Bellinck’s performances. Others address the threat of violence (Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed), tyranny (Octavia), or shaping activism (The Tempest Society). In Manifesto the film director Julian Rosefeldt examines the relation between art and society. 

We are presenting two national theatre production companies, each with its own state of the nation: My Country by the National Theatre in London, and The Nation by the Dutch National Theatre in The Hague. Both performances show divided countries in which no one, from politicians to citizens, seems to dare to take responsibility. We also believe that it is important to explore democracy of form. Members of the audience can get actively involved as a passer-by, participant, or activist, if they so wish. Our artists encourage you to question the old hierarchy between the audience and the artists.



Bouchra Khalili
commissioned by
documenta 14
Ibsen Awards, Ibsen Teater (Skien)
with support of