The Art of Rajaa Gharbi

Rajaa A. Gharbi
Selected Biographical Notes

Migratory Poets

Rajaa A. Gharbi is an international painter, poet, socio-linguist and filmmaker. She was born and raised in Tunisia where she was a multimedia artist with the OTEMA (Organization Nationale de Theatre de Marionnettes) at Ibn Rachiq Arts Center, and an apprentice filmmaker with the Rue de Marseille Cine-club in Tunis, from middle school until she moved to Morocco in 1977.

At the Ibn Rachiq Arts Center she was able to begin translating into an interdisciplinary art form what she had been learning since early childhood in textile work and clothes design from her mother and story–telling from her father. She passionately sculpted, painted, costumed, and performed in Tunisia’s prestigious and neighborhood theatres the tige-marionnettes characters that she had created with the Organization Nationale de Theatre de Marionnettes, with the mentorship of Abdel Haq Khmir, and later with Tahar Jerbi. In 1977 she became the first Tunisian woman to begin working as a salaried marrionettist.

In Morocco, she was invited by playwright and North African theatre leader Tayeb Seddiki to join, as a marionnetist and actor, the Casablanca Municipal Theatre which he has been directing since the mid-seventies. A daily commute between Casablanca and Fez where she lived from 1977 to 1982 was not possible. She continued painting and occasionally acting in film until she moved to the United States in 1982. Gharbi has been living in Seattle, Washington and Tunis since then, when possible, creating artwork in the visual and literary in Spain, Morocco and France.

Gharbi is the first North African English language poet in the United States to have been published and awarded public funding for literary work (1986-2006) and both her visual art and literary work have been published, presented, critiqued and anthologized by art curators and literary scholars from North Africa and the United States with solo and group exhibitions since 1984.

Between 1997 and 2011 Gharbi’s visual art and poetry were celebrated in a number of events including an invitation for feature publication in the USA state department’s 2011 Official Diplomatic Calendar, a 2006 Honor retrospective exhibition, poetry recital and signing of her book of paintings and poems ...From Songs of a Grasshopper (Kehna Publications 2004) given by H.E. Najib Hachana, Ambassador of Tunisia to the United States in Washington DC, a special inclusion of her Fine art and poetry work appeared in the Encyclopedia of Arab American Artists, USA 2007 (Dr. Fayeq Oweis Heinemann 2007). Also in 2007 she was nominated for the Seattle Mayor’s Art Award and the Horace Mann Achievement Award. In 2006 an extensive study of her poetry and paintings was presented at the Power and the Role of the Intellectual-the Eighth International Symposium on Comparative Literature, Cairo, Egypt (Dr. Najib Redouane writer and literary critic, University of California Long Beach). Also in 2006, on the occasion of Tunisia’s 50th year of independence, she was the first North African artist and English language poet to be invited to publish paintings and poetry work  in the French-language anthology Expressions Maghrebines, and gave, as an artist, the opening keynote address for Working Mother Magazine’s Town Hall.

Presentations of Gharbi’s work also include, Subversive Compositional Techniques in art, course at Rutgers University 2011, Seattle Reads 2010, African American Art Museum’s Black Palette Fine Art Exhibit 2009, visual art exhibit “International Indigenous Synergy Collaborative Works” at the San Francisco American Indian Contemporary Art Center in 1996, the C.M. Russell Museum, the Museum of the Great Plains, and Montana Historical Society.

Gharbi’s solo exhibitions in the USA include 2011, 2010 Selected Works GHAYYA Studio, 2009 Collective Psyches Artisans On Taylor, 2009 Selected Works Seattle Broadway Last Friday, 2008 Selected Works GHAYYA Studio, 2006 Retrospective Exhibit Cultural Space Embassy of Tunisia, 2005 show “Yes In Spite of Steel Walls’ Art & Soul Gallery, 2005 “Eyes beyond Typhoons” Ghayya Gallery, 2005 “Selected Works” West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, 2004 “In Storms and Fresh Ink” Ghayya Gallery, 2003“Images, Scripts and Diacritical Signs” Gallery 110, 2003 “An Archeology of Languaging” M. Rosetta Hunter Gallery, 2001 “...From Songs of a Grasshopper paintings” at Antioch University, and in 1996 “A Story of Language” at Antioch University.

Gharbi has talked about her visual art and read from her published poetry at numerous art, media, and literary venues including Tunisia’s National Television, radio and La Presse, Assahafa, and Le Temps Newspapers, National Public Radio (NPR), Voice of America, The International African Diaspora Film Festival at Columbia University, Bumbershoot's International Readers program, Seattle’s  Museum of History and Industry, Elliott Bay Book Company, PBS's International Goodwill Arts Festival, The East Glacier Reporter, Seattle's Langston Hughes Arts Center, Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, Edmond Washington Black Box Theatre, Seattle’s Central Library and Town Hall, the Alliance Francaise's Journee Internationale de la Francophonie, The Cauldron’s Bird’s Nest and other media.

Gharbi’s work continues to be invited to national and international events. Some of which are the USA Womens’ Caucus for Art, the International Minoan Celebration of Partnership, Heraklion, Crete, and World Congress of Poets in Greece, Poetas del Mundo annual Rencontre Internationale de Poesie, Santiago, Chili and Havana, Cuba, International Academy Orient-Occident, Curtea de Argeş, Romania, , 2011 Asociaciòn Tunecina De Hispanistas, Tunis, Tunisia, Art Biennale, Cairo, Egypt, Salon d’Automne, Paris France.

Gharbi’s formal education is in fine art, filmmaking, creative writing, and socio-linguistics with an MA in Whole Systems Design-Transcultural Communications from Antioch University. She is a member of the Academy of American Poets, the Tunisian Writers’ National Association, the Tunisian Union of Fine Artists, Poetas del Mundo, Washington Lawyers for the Arts, Seattle Art Museum’s African Arts Council, and Antioch University Alumni Council.  She is a contributing artist to PONCHO, West Edge Sculpture and Artist Trust,
An Arabic language book of New and Selected poems by Rajaa A. Gharbi will be published in Tunisia in 2012. She is a featured artist in London’s LAHD Gallery’s 2012 Contemporary Tunisia exhibition. Her upcoming solo show is in Chelsea New York (2013) and her workis also scheduled to appear this year in anthologies including New Poetry From AfricaUSA and the World Congress of Poets Greece.


Gharbi is represented in the United States and Tunisia. For bookings, studio visits or more information, please email contact@rajaagharbi.com, visit her website: RajaaGharbi.com or call in the USA 206-816-9378, in Tunisia 216-55-748-212

Biographie de Rajaa A. Gharbi

Poétesse, peintre, sociolinguiste et réalisatrice tunisienne et américaine, née à la medina (nahjelbacha) de tunis. Vit à washington depuis 1982. A publié plusieurs ouvrages en anglais (poésie, Digging for Gems et ...From Songs of a Grasshopper), (essais : Blue Forces), huit courts et deux longs métrages. A des expositions individuelles et collectives depuis 1984. Appreciée par ses lecteurs et la critique, sa poésie est la première œuvre de poésie d’un ecrivain d’origine nord africaine aux USA à avoir bénéficié de subventions  étatiques et privées. Ses Travaux en poésie et beaux arts font l’objet de travaux universitaires et inclusions dans des anthologies aux USA at ailleurs. Membre de l’académie des poétes  américains. Membre du conseil  de l’université d’antioch de washington.

Quelques extraits d’une longue étude universitaire qu’il a presenté au 8ième symposium internationale sur la littérature comparée en 2006 à l’université du Caire intitulée Power and the Role of the Intellectuel, dans laquelle Dr. Nejib Redouane* a décrit l’oeuvre de la poètesse, intitulée ...From Songs of a Grasshopper, ainsi :

« ...Les circonstances qui ont inspiré ses poèmes ouvrent  constamment des réfléxions et soulevent des questions existentielles...Ce qui caractérise l’écriture de Gharbi, c ‘est qu’elle ne se fait pas dans l’une ou l’autre des langues dominantes de son pays natal. Elle écrit dans une autre langue, étrangère à la fois aux résonnances linguistiques et aux sensibilités socioculturelles de sa mère patrie...Ce qui la distingue de ses pairs tunisiens, c’est qu’elle traite differents thèmes qui s’inscrivent dans sa dialectique spacio-temporelle...une des singularités  de sa création artistique réside dans sa vision novatrice de la langue (toute langue qu’elle maîtrise parfaitement bien ou qu’elle ne connait pas) qui invite à une réelle interpretation du mot et fourni un nouveau language qui donne accés au sens. Elle incarne sa poésie dans un mouvement imprévisible... Sa demarche d’écriture étonne par l’association de métaphores, de rythmes et d’idiomes qui chantent...grâce et beauté à travers la multiplicité de ses langues presentées de manières littérale ou figurative... Sa passion pour les langues se revèle profondément dans sa peinture. Elle indique sa volonté deliberée d’inscrire une écriture visuelle qui n’est pas reproduction de la calligraphie traditionnelle mais plutôt un procédé varié d’extension , qui renvoie à la présentation du mot tel qu’il est écrit en dehors de toute forme alphabétique sur le papier, sur le rocher, sur le fer, dans les caves ou encore entre les entrelignes de l’Histoire plus spécifiquement nord-africaine. Dans beaucoup de ses tableaux , sa démarche de construction résolument volontariste se manifeste à travers le tissage et le métissage de signes provenant de plusieures langues : L’arabe, le tifinagh-« Berbère », l’hebreu, etc. Elle médite aussi sur les hiérogliphes, archétype de l’art d’écriture par lequel la parole peut devenir espace... ..

.[... From Songs of a Grasshopper] un objet et un sujet, une sorte d’hybridité entre la poésie et la peinture avec une inclination pour l’art de la prose [est] une sélection soigneusement choisie d’un large et continue corpus d’expression littéraire et artistique.  C’est une oeuvre magistrale... Gharbi [y] honore lẻtre humain dans tout ce qui fait sa grandeur. En somme sa poésie encourage la connaisance et l’amour de ce monde habitable et sonne le rappel pour plus de justice et d’unité entre les humains. C’est une occasion unique de se laisser séduire par ce joyau de la poésie et de l’art visuel »

*Ecrivain et chercheur Canadien d’origine marocaine, Professeur des litteratures de la Francophonie du sud à l’université de Californie. Parmi ses ouvrages : Rachid Mimouni 2001, Taher Bekri 2003, Malika Mokaddem 2003,  Assia Djebar 2008, Vitalité littéraire au Maroc 2009, L'oeuvre romanesque de Gerard Etienne 2011 (Harmattan). Back to Top