Thursday, December 15, 2011

France's African Face in Bobigny

Bobigny's Marianne
© Discover Paris!

The town of Bobigny, which borders Paris to the northeast, is the préfecture (capital) of the department Seine-Saint-Denis. According to Jean-Jacques Brilland, director of the Bobigny tourist office, the identity of the city is based on three concepts:

Ville Monde – A city of the world, Bobigny is proud of its diverse population (over 100 ethnicities at present).

Ville Coeur – Bobigny, the heart of Seine-Saint-Denis, is a city of social solidarity.

Ville par Tous, pour Tous – A city by everyone, for everyone, Bobigny calls upon its citizens to speak up and be heard, always keeping the common good in mind.

The ultimate expression of this inclusiveness can be found in the Salle des Mariages (marriage hall) at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). Entirely decorated by artist Hervé Di Rosa, founder of the art modeste movement, it is a testimony to the principle of direct democracy – the decisions regarding the reconstruction and decoration of the room were made after direct consultation with the citizens of the city. The elements that make up the room bear witness to the incredible diversity that has defined Bobigny since the 19th century.

Salle des Mariages at Bobigny
© Discover Paris!

The hearts that lovers carve on trees inspired Di Rosa to design the heart-shaped seats for the room. He created special chairs for the bride and groom, complete with men’s and women’s shoes for the legs. The backs are decorated with smiling faces. The top of the bride’s chair is crowned with a wire heart, representing the French expression coup de coeur, and the groom’s chair is topped by lightning bolts, representing the French expression coup de foudre. Both translate into English as “lovestruck.”

A second pair of these chairs is available to accommodate celebrations for same-sex couples. The chairs were created in Miami, where the artist had a studio for a period of time.

The most remarkable work in the room is Di Rosa’s sculpture of La Marianne, an emblem of France that has been used to represent the spirit of the Republic since the late 18th century. Although she has traditionally been depicted as a white woman, Di Rosa chose to represent Marianne as an African figure. Indeed, he engaged masters of the lost wax-casting technique in the town of Foumban, Cameroon to create the sculpture.

Bobigny's Marianne has the breasts and protruding belly (representing prosperity and generosity) that are characteristic of African statuary of women. She has Negroid facial features and Di Rosa's signature touch of two sets of eyes – one that gazes down upon the happy couple at the moment of their marriage, the other off into the distance, symbolizing eternity – the ideal length of the couple’s union. Marianne does wear the traditional Phrygien bonnet, which in this case represents the freedom of French-owned slaves at the time of the Revolution.

Marianne de Foumban
© Discover Paris!

The sculpture is nestled in a niche that is painted white and intentionally located between a long blue wall to the left and a long red wall to the right. Together, the colors represent Le Tricolore (the French flag). When the bride and groom stand up to take their vows, they stand before the mayor's table (heart-shaped; designed by Di Rosa), the flag, and Marianne.

Why an African Marianne? Di Rosa responds to this question as follows:

It is not written anywhere that Marianne is blond with blue eyes! For me, Marianne is love, the world, the Republic - so why not an African?

Di Rosa also acknowledged the pervasion of American-style hip-hop graffiti in Bobigny by installing several floor-to-ceiling panels decorated in this art form. One panel displays the Chinese hieroglyphic that represents love and another bears the word boboche, a term of affection for the city. These works created by four artists, three of whom are local residents.

Graffiti in the Salle des Mariages
© Discover Paris!

At the end of the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom select one of six original, signed and numbered serigraphs to take home as a memento of their union. (Two of them are shown below.) The artists who contributed these works are Hervé Di Rosa (France), François Boisrond (France), Rachid Koraichi (Algeria), Ricardo Mosner (Argentina), William Wilson (France/Togo-Benin) et Maître Akeji (Japan).

(2006) William Wilson
© Discover Paris!

(2006) Ricardo Mosner
© Discover Paris!

The Salle des Mariages was inaugurated on May 12, 2006.


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