Black Marianne: A freedom too far for France?

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the groundswell of affirmation for freedom of expression in France, you might have thought that all was well in the land of Liberty, Egality, Fraternity. At least as far as what the state is prepared to allow in the name of artistic expression.

Not so in the small town of Fremainville, in Northern France, whose mayor has removed the statue of a black Marianne from outside the town hall. Here is the statue in question.

260115-marianne-noire-620Beautiful, isn’t she? Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. You will be shocked to learn that most Mariannes are white.

And it appears the mayor, Marcel Allègre, wants to keep it that way. He claims that a black Marianne is a “Marianne of liberty, but not a Marianne of the French Republic. She undoubtedly represented something, but not the French Republic.”

So, absolute freedom of expression where the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are concerned, but you can’t allow a black Marianne to represent the French Republic? The cognitive dissonance is staggering.

If the French are serious about freedom of expression, then I suggest the government overrules this stupid, racist mayor, and puts the statue back in place. Furthermore, I suggest they commission more Mariannes, representing all the ethnic minorities.

Including a few Muslim Mariannes, complete with headscarf.

Est ce que Je Suis Charlie?

The attack by Islamic terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the death of twelve people is appalling enough, even without the implied attack on a free press and freedom of expression. We are naturally outraged, and the impulse to join together in solidarity under the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner is almost overwhelming.

But I’m resisting the temptation, and I’m not very happy, because it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Here’s why. First take a look at the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons, with English translations.

Some of these cartoons are vile, for example this one.

iTumRdEJePilN-e1348078503609Compare it to this antisemitic cartoon from the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer.

der_sturmerBoth cartoons vilify an entire religion and by implication all its followers. Now you might say that satire is meant to be offensive, and of course it is. The great tradition of British cartoon satire held nothing back, and Steve Bell is its torch bearer. Here’s an example of his work.

Steve Bell cartoon, 28.06.2012The image of George Osborne is personalised, as with Muhammed, but it’s not implicating every Tory voter as scum of the earth. Or presenting a stereotype, as in the Der Sturmer cartoon, inviting the reader to tar all Tory voters with the same brush.

The point is that if freedom of expression is sacrosanct, then some of those expressions will inevitably be racist, zenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic. You have to ask who produced them and why. So the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ meme is fine when you’re defending an abstract right, but the Devil’s in the details. It’s such a big tent that any racist, zenophobe and Islamophobe can happily crowd in, along with the people who genuinely care about freedom of expression.

And I’m choosy about the people I associate with.

Al Murray Demonstrates That Britain Is Best

While I’m thinking about stand-up comics, here’s another of my favourites. Al Murray, in his character as the Pub Landlord, perfectly channels the outer reaches of the Faragiste, right wing mentality. Murray gives the rest of the world a well-deserved kicking in this video, all you’ll ever need to know about Johnny Foreigner and Abroad.

A Sense of Space, Rendered Flat

One of the things I did when I fled to Glasgow on Referendum Day was to visit the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). It’s one of my favourite places, combining a fine neoclassical building with uncluttered, beautiful, modern interior spaces, and interesting exhibits. And it’s free.

There were a couple of artists whose work I photographed. The first is Sara Barker, with For Myself and Strangers. The other, Nathan Coley, I’ll leave till tomorrow.

Barker makes abstract 3-D sculptures out of wire and painted materials that change as you move round them – no view of the the work is ever the same, because your position/perspective is always changing. By photographing one of them, I rendered it flat, but a photo from another angle sees it differently.

It makes me think of the fight for independence, about the sense of freedom and space it opened up, now rendered flat. Still an absorbing picture, depending on your point of view, but without movement a set of partisan images.

Is Scotland Free Yet?

This is real-time blogging. The time is 8:25 am. I’ve been up since 6:00, doing everything possible to distract my mind from seeking out the result of the Scottish Independence referendum, which should have been made public by now.

So here goes. Off to the perfidious Guardian for the news…and it’s No. Huge missed opportunity to be our own country, independent of the neo-liberal cabal at Westminster. Life will go on, but Scotland just shot itself in the foot.

Freedom Day

Otherwise known as the Scottish Independence referendum, which finally happened today after months of wall-to-wall negativity, bias, lies and pure fantasy from all three major parties and every single newspaper. Including my own dear Guardian, for which I will never forgive it.

I voted early, getting to the polling station at Victoria Hall before 7:00. First in line outside.

The next photos are of the Independence Car, and its proud owner, who I’ve seen driving round Campbeltown during the campaign.

And then I took a bus to Glasgow, because I couldn’t bear staying in the same place while the process unfolded. Part of me really doesn’t want to know the result. More tomorrow.