When Nathan Gray and his posse of skateboarders and street artists collectively known as “The Bedouins” were scouting out the perfect place to build a skate park in post-revolutionary Tunisia, some of the locals suggested they inhabit Imed Trabelsi’s abandoned mansion.
Once the glittering home of the country’s former Construction Minister and nephew-in-law of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the building and grounds had been trashed by protestors during the Jasmine revolution, so a team of skaters and locals set about converting the place into an inspiring skate and art park. It is also an important location for PUSH Tunisia – a documentary scheduled to make its official debut later this year.
Trabelsi’s swimming pool was filled to the gills with rubbish when The Bedouins came upon it, but within a day it was spotless and equipped with concrete concave cambers repurposed from broken pillars that allow skaters to perform their tricks.
Gray told The Guardian in a recent profile that “everyone showed up and liked the idea of converting the place into something anybody could skate and enjoy. The locals told us they’d help out however we needed them to. They didn’t know hot to build it, but they were down to make it happen.”
Egyptian street artist Yehia Ossama put the finishing touches on this inspiring new urban space with a mural entitled “Al Arab,” which means “The Arabs.” His idea was to honor everyone in the region who has sacrificed their personal security and often their lives for the benefit of a better future.
Films that inspire
This is not the first time Gray has entered a beleaguered zone intent on uplifting disadvantaged or traumatized youth. While he was in university, he traveled to Bangladesh and donated a pile of skateboards and lessons to slum dwellers. Later he returned and lived with his new friends for a while and filmed the documentary “Smile.”
Then, during the Lebanese war in 2006, he gathered Arab and Jew skaters together – “people who aren’t supposed to like each other” – and filmed a second documentary called SOUR aimed at bridging a cultural divide during one of the most divisive periods of the region’s history.
PUSH Tunisia will profile the characters who are being transformed by The Bedouins’ most recent creative outreach program. Each person’s unique history will be chronicled, as well as their response to the revolution and their thoughts about Tunisia’s future.
“Although the emphasis will be about skateboarding there is also an important element of connecting African, Arab, and American cultures, inspiring those affected by conflict, and creating a sense of awareness of the current events happening in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt,” according to The Bedouins’ online literature.
Gray hopes that in addition to establishing a platform for the locals to express themselves, the documentary will raise awareness of the people affected by the Arab Spring uprisings – both then and now. They received support from skateboarders, NGOs, and even the American embassy in Tunisia to make this vision a reality.
If you’re in the area, try to catch a preview screening of PUSH – one of the most exciting developments to come out of the new Tunisia.