SMMAC "Seed Conservation; Creating New Worlds" & "Couscous: Seeds of Dignity"

Le 27/04/2022

with Vivien Sansour, Harvard University & Habib Ayeb, Observatoire de la Souveraineté Alimentaire et de l’Environment

The stories we tell. Engaging archives otherwise – Contemporary Arab and Muslim Worlds Seminar Series (SMMAC) – 2021-2022

"Seed Conservation; Creating New Worlds"

In a time of growing conversations about climate change and conservation, many of us find ourselves frustrated at the lack of attention to one of the most important pillars of sustainability: social justice. Terms such as sustainability, food security, and food sovereignty have become staples to ecological discussions but what do they actually mean in the real and practical realities of communities who have for decades - and sometimes centuries - suffered incredible injustice. How can we design a new future for food when we are still shy about talking about political and social justice more boldly? More importantly, how can our past and current experiences inform us about our future and perhaps help us design a better vision for our future? These themes will be the underlying threads of this conversation with Vivien who will use story and seed as vessels for transformation.

Vivien Sansour is an artist, storyteller, researcher and conservationist. She uses image, sketch, film, soil, seeds, and plants to enliven old cultural tales in contemporary presentations and to advocate for the protection of biodiversity as a cultural and political act. Vivien works with a global network of farmers and seed advocates to promote seed conservation and agrobiodiversity. As part of this effort, she founded the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, with the goals of finding and reintroducing threatened crop varieties and to collect stories to assert the ownership of seeds by communities. Vivien is an avid lover of nature and the arts. She has sprouted many projects out of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, including her co-founding of El Beir, Arts and Seeds studio in Bethlehem, the Traveling Kitchen project, and several other collaborative projects internationally. The Seed Library and its associated projects are now located in the village of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palestine. As an artist and sought-after speaker, Vivien has been invited to showcase her work at venues both locally and globally. These include the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the Berlinale film festival in Berlin, and the Chicago Architecture Biennale. Her performance, Autonomia, was selected for the closing of the 2019 Venice Art Biennale. For more infos about Sansour’s projects visit her website at

"Couscous: Seeds of Dignity"

Couscous, with its various recipes, constitutes the staple food of all of the populations of the Maghreb, including Tunisia. It is for this region what rice is for most of Asia. Visitors to Tunisian homes are invariably received around meals of couscous. But while wealthy households typi- cally have a variety of additional meal options on hand, poorer ones often rely solely on couscous - even “naked” or plain - for daily sustenance. Beyond representing tradi- tional norms of hospitality, a dish of couscous is also rich in information on the economic, social, cultural and ecological circumstances of those who produce and prepare it. The documentary Couscous: Seeds of Dignity, which focuses on the political, social, economic and ecological conditions of cereal and couscous production, demonstrates how the food question is in fact at the heart of the issue of individual and collective human dignity as well as local and national food independence and sovereignty. The film « Couscous: Seeds of Dignity » is an invitation to open, serious and collective debate on the policies of food dependency pursued by all Tunisian governments from the end of the French colonial era until today, six years after the fall of the Ben Ali regime. Dignity is not a slogan; it is a condition of life. Without food sovereignty, dignity is no more than an abuse of language. And without an independent and dignified peasantry, there can be no collective dignity. In the end, a healthy serving of dignity can also be found in a plate of couscous. collaborative projects internationally.

Habib Ayeb is a geographer, researcher, documentary filmmaker, and president of the Tunis-based Observatory of Food and Environmental Sovereignty [OSAE by its French acronym]. OSAE has been working to foster so- cial science research around agrarian questions, particularly in Tunisia, that have traditionally been studied by engineers and technical experts. OSAE also works to connect small farmers and rural populations with urban populations through workshops, conferences, field trips and study sessions. Ayeb’s most recent book, coauthored with Ray Bush, is entitled Food Insecurity and Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa: Agrarian Questions in Egypt and Tunisia (Anthem Press, 2019).

This public seminar series will be both virtual and in-person at Université libre de Bruxelles.

Full program here

Wednesday 27th April 2022, 12pm

Salle de réception
Building R - Level 3 - Room R3.105
Avenue Antoine Depage 1
1000 Bruxelles

To register please fill in this form

Contacts: Sahar Aurore Saeidnia & Omar Jabary Salamanca
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