Critics’ Picks

View of “New Flesh, the Feeling of the Evening is Deep.”

View of “New Flesh, the Feeling of the Evening is Deep.”


Yesmine Ben Khelil

La Boîte
25 Rue 8603, Zone Industrielle La Charguia 1
November 3, 2022–February 18, 2023

For her solo show “New Flesh, the Feeling of the Evening is Deep” at La Boite, Yesmine Ben Khelil turns her attention to the Carthage oceanographic museum Dar el Hout. The public institution’s poor maintenance and frequent water leaks inspired the Tunis-based artist to speculate on what would happen if the building were to be fully flooded, drowning the creatures—both living and dead—that it hosts. What new forms of existence would these objects assume under these conditions?

Ben Khelil effects the transformation with a partial reconstitution of Dar el Hout: Upon walking in on the coastal blue carpet, we are greeted by a series of zombiefied portraits of the successive museum directors. Their ghastly presence anchors the national museum in a historical continuum spanning its creation during the French protectorate in 1924 to current times. In the same space, Ben Khelil departs further into fantasy with her interpretation of the fish tanks, taxidermy birds, and other curiosities populating Dar el Hout. A quartet of standing painted panels gives a glimpse of the submerged museum’s inhabitants and architecture as they metamorphose into hybrid monstrosities—the “new flesh” of the exhibition’s title. An adjacent gallery, La Boite Studio, presents glimpses of Ben Khelil’s artistic process through notebooks and sketches documenting the genesis of the project.

“New Flesh” is part of an ongoing artistic initiative with curator Aziza Harmel addressing the public cultural infrastructure of Tunisia. Together, the duo asks how to use and occupy existing ruins and confront the ghosts that haunt them. Ben Khelil, previously been known for her meticulous miniature collages and drawings, succeeds with this larger-scale installation, playfully questioning the conditions of existence within the oceanographic museum. The artist’s apocalyptic plot subtly unpacks her ambivalent feelings about and attitude toward Dar el Hout as a case study, while foreshadowing the current crisis engulfing the country as a whole.