Say No to Racism on the Walls of the French National Assembly!
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My name is Mame-Fatou Niang, I am an Associate Professor of French Studies at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA), a filmmaker, and a specialist of Afro-French Studies. On March 8, 2018, I was stunned by this huge fresco seen at the National Assembly in Paris. I shared the photo in my circle of friends and held several presentations in Brazil, in the United States and in England on the issue. On April 3rd, 2019, I received a tweet, a call from an Afro-French schoolgirl embarrassed, pained and angry after a school visit to the Palais Bourbon, where the French National Assembly seats. The teacher could not find the words to explain the inexplicable, to contain the laughters or the anger brought by this work of art commemorating the abolition of 1794.
This petition, started with French novelist Julien Suaudeau, is a commitment to this girl: the object of her discomfort and of her anger, the object of our collective embarrassment must go!
"The Painted History of the National Assembly" is a series of frescoes created by Hervé di Rosa in 1991, on the walls of Palais Bourbon. Among these vignettes, the scene commemorating the first abolition of slavery in 1794 shows, among other details, two huge black faces, with bulging eyes, oversized bright red lips, carnivorous teeth, in an imagery borrowing to Sambo, the Banania commercials and Tintin in the Congo.
This "work of art" constitutes a humiliating and dehumanizing insult to the millions of victims of slavery and to all their descendants.
There is no need here for context or introduction to the artist’s universe, where these characters abound: a work of commemoration needs no footnote. It must be conducive to contemplation, to reflection, not to the deep and instantaneous rejection, disgust, and anger brought on by this piece.
We are not interested in the artist’s intentions. The artefact is the only thing that matters: shameful lapse of judgment or umpteenth manifestation of a blind spot in France’s colonial memory, it has no place in the house of the people.
In 1991 when this piece was commissioned and created, France abounded with artists who could have executed this piece with the respect due to this key moment of world history. In 2019, these talents are here: visual artists, photographers, art designers, Street artists, calligraphers... talents molded and born out of this history that deserved much more than this unfathomable fiasco.
We ask the members of the French National Assembly to open their eyes to this reality.
We ask the French National Assembly to take down this fresco, because its lingering presence at the heart of the legislative power makes the original wrong more unacceptable every day.
Mame-Fatou Niang and Julien Suaudeau
My name is Mame-Fatou Niang. I am Afro-French. I co-wrote this petition with Julien Suaudeau because this fresco is a moral fault. Its presence for nearly three decades on the walls of the People's house must question the flaws of our education system and our collective memory.
My name is Julien Suaudeau. I am a novelist. I teach at Bryn Mawr College. I co-wrote this petition with Mame-Fatou Niang for three reasons:
Because voluntary blindness, whether by ignorance, indifference or as a ploy to preserve the holy indivisibility of the Republic, is as destructive as outward racism.
Because we cannot create a common future without becoming aware of our common history and owning up to the wounds it opened. These wounds cannot be erased and need to be taught in order not to be forgotten.
Because sensitivity to whoever is to me is non-negotiable.
Let’s open our eyes.
Mame-Fatou Niang, Associate Professor of French Studies/Filmmaker
Julien Suaudeau, Novelist/Lecturer of French
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