The Surrealist Movement and Africa

Presented as part of the project La Saison Africa 2020, the exhibition Un.e Air.e de famille (A family ressemblance), on display between June 25th and November 8th, 2021 at Le musée d’art et d’histoire Paul Eluard in Saint-Denis, France, explores the connection between Africa and the French Surreaslit movement. This museum was not chosen randomly — the surrealist poet Paul Eluard (1895-1952) who famously wrote the poem “Liberté” in 1942 was born in Saint-Denis, and bequeathed his private collection to the museum. Eluard was an advocate of anticolonialism. 

The exhibition Un.e Air.e de famille takes place in two large rooms. It was actually quite difficult to find them without the cultural mediator, since they were on two different floors and there were no indications. The collection on display was a strange mix of different objects — old personal pictures, notes, drawings and artefacts belonging to Eluard, which were contrasted with modern photography, drawing, audio and video installations created by thirteen African artists from Senegal, France, Germany, Angola, Belgium, Tanzania, and Mozambique. 

View of the exhibition © Carolina Carrillo © Musée d’art et d’histoire Paul Éluard de Saint-Denis

After crossing a long path, there were two different rooms devoted to Paul Eluard’s works and his personal connections with the Surrealists. But since the collection was very large, many objects were locked in drawers and were not accessible to the public. Yet, the descriptions of the works were easy to find, useful, and clear.

Then, upstairs, one of the rooms of the museum displayed Eluard’s wooden sculptures along with other pieces of contemporary African work.The sound of some of the audio installations was too loud and made it difficult to understand the works on display. However, the feeling of entering “a mass” (one of the audio installations seem to be a video of a religious ceremony) was interesting, immersive, and catching.

Eluard, Breton, and Picasso were against political colonialism in France. In fact, these Surreal artists were known for refusing colonial policies and practices in the 1930s and the 1950s. Their interest towards non-western art objects allowed African art to become later fully appreciated. They also questioned colonialism and criticized the Exposition Coloniale in 1931. It was the resistance shown by the surreal art leaders what made it possible to know about the contemporary African artists. Their work questioned the audience about topics such as memory, migration and spirituality from a post-colonial perspective. 

© RFI © Owanto

The ethical subject of female genital mutilation closed the exhibition while formulating many questions. In fact, when the feminist activist Françoise Vergès contacted the people who practice this ritual, she was surprised when they told her that this surgery represents an honor for them, a celebration. The women who were interviewed did not seem to feel resentment towards the person who had mutilated them. The scenes illustrated in the Flowers Series by Franco-Gabonese artist Owanto were presented in a huge format and were illuminated in the most spectacular room of the museum, the chapel, resulting in an impactful experience for the audience. 

Caroline CARRILLO & Patricia BOATENG (étudiante en Master 2)
Cours Literature and the Media : Representations, Adaptations, Exhibitions
Master MC2L
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones
Université Paris 8

Divine Divas: An Enchanting Exhibition

Paris. From May 13th till September 6th, 2020, l’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris showcased the long-awaited exhibition on Arabian singers, actresses and dancers and their lives, music, film careers and fights against the patriarchy. This fabulous exhibition shows the power of female singers and artists and explores vital themes such as feminism, stardom, empowerment, and intellectual creativity. 

The exhibition begins in Egypt, bathed in a chiaroscuro display, with a smooth music of female voices in the background. All the arts of the golden age of Egypt are represented,— including music, poetry, theater and cinema — of an era that was dominated by female artists who became legendary divas in the contemporary world. In the entry hall, we are welcomed by the faces of the female singers displayed on a curtain-like screen.  The rooms are organized in a chronological order, as the visitors discover Sabah, Oum Kalthoum, Fairouz, Warda Al Djazaira, and Dalida.

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida  ©Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020 

In the first part of the exhibition, the curators decide to start off with the revolutionary feminist movement, which brought about crucial, social, political, and literary changes. In that period, some masterpieces of classical Arabic literature were rediscovered, and major Western works of the Enlightenment and the current era as the description of the first room reads.

In the room, the visitor can see a display of old journals and newspapers dedicated to famous feminist women, such as Hoda Chaaraoui. A cover of a 1925 Egyptian newspaper Illustration is glued on a wall next to a short caption explaining the birth of the Arab feminist movement. Additionally, a piece of Badiaa Massabni’s memoire written in Arabic was put in a glass frame — it mentioned her sickness and how she could manage to heal from it. Stepping into another room, the exhibition offered a unique recreation of a literary salon inspired by famous feminist activists, such as Hoda Chaaraoui, Ceza Nabaraoui, Sofia Zeghoul, and May Ziadé. Antique furniture such as chairs and sofas, a round old table next to a standing vintage lamp, and a classic typewriter reminiscent of that particular period were placed to immerse the visitors into the literary world of the divas. The typewriter was staged on an old wooden desk with a chair close to it, which might be a reference to the female singers’ inspiration when writing their poems, turning them into iconic songs, and it could also be a hint at their revolutionary journals.

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida © Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020

The description written on a red sign hanging from the ceiling explained that this literary salon was recreated to celebrate the revolutionary ideas transmitted through female journalists and founders of publishing houses and female authors who contributed to the anti-colonial struggle, as well as promoted Arab identity. There was a short description that explained why May Ziadé published under multiple pseudonyms, both male and female, and how she became an activist alongside Hoda Chaaraoui and Quasim Amin, rethinking the links between literature and feminism. She also published biographies on the great Egyptian feminist figures.                  

Through the literary exhibition of books, authentic memoirs and magazine articles presented in different formats (enclosed in glass panels, sticked on to walls…), we learn about the divas’ biographies and careers. We learn how, at a very young age, their raw talent was discovered by famous musicians or composers and how they evolved into the legends they are today.

Some literary reviews from that time exhibited in glass panels dealt with the lyricists that contributed to the fame of the divas throughout their powerful poetry. They clearly show how these female singers pushed their lyricists to the limits in order to compete with one another to produce the most poetic and powerful lyrics possible. Although it is useful to see actual authentic books, magazines covers and articles, the glass system somehow prevents the visitor from getting a closer look, as it acts as a barrier between the public and the precious objects, which is a pity in this case. It is probably used to maintain the quality of the objects or make it appear in even high quality, but it could have been more interactive and dynamic if they were presented in another format. 

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida © Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020

On the second floor, two more rooms were dedicated to Warda and Oum Kalthoum. Each room exhibited some belongings and possessions of the female singers put inside glass boxes — personal documents, letters, books, dresses, musical instruments and accessories. In each room, the visitors are reminded of the singers’ powerful voices accompanied by their portraits on the walls and even interviews digitally displayed on small screens. The room dedicated to Warda is filled with a series of portraits, album covers, and some private and more intimate objects, such as a novel by Agatha Christie in a glass panel, along with her passports and personal mandolin. A short text explains that the structure of her songs was inspired in part by the classical Arabic waslah (a sequence of learned songs) and also from Western operas or symphonic poems. The same type of display is at work in Oum Kalthoum’s room. The visitors were invited to look at her portraits, album covers, jewelry, mesmerizing dresses, and film posters accompanied. At the entrance, the visitor is provided with an introduction on her life and work, explaining her political and literacy involvement and activism. It is said that most of her songs are an adaptation of several poems written by the famous poet Nizar Qabbani. 

In Fairouz’s room, for instance, letters written by her fans were projected onto a screen. The visitor could also could listen to the read-aloud version via headphones. This video explained the personal relationship between Fairouz and Beyrouth in English and Arabic. It was interesting to listen to the letters in both languages, out of curiosity, because both did not feel the same. It made me realize how powerful and impactful a language can be, especially when writing passionate letters, almost considered as poetry. 

Reading the exhibition’s rich and well-structured catalog, I found that the curators of the exhibition at IMA, Hanna Boghanim and Élodie Bouffard, describe these divas as not only brilliant performers who overcame the constraints of patriarchal societies but also women “who are still recognized today as the basis of a common Arab culture.” 

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida © Institut du Monde d’Arabe, Paris, 2020

On the second floor, the visitors are welcomed by a sign that reads: O Nuit O Mes Yeux on a blue wall written with metal and shiny lights. Inside the room, a shrine, similar to a mood-board, decorated with old posters, designs, paintings, drawings, books, and even ordinary objects glued on the wall, was particularly intriguing. It was reminiscent of the iconic graphic novel O Nuit O Mes Yeux by Lamia Ziadé. It felt like both an hommage to her and a celebration of “femmes fatales,” which sparked the nights of Cairo between 1920 and 1970. Lamia Ziadé’s novel actually relates anecdotes about her supposed or proven affairs and addiction to poker and alcohol. Filled with meaningful drawings, Ziadé’s book covers 70 years of history through the lives of singers Asmahan, Umm Kulthum, and Fairuz. Like Hamdan, Ziadé began with Asmahan to tell the story of the alluring star who drowned in the Nile in a car crash at the age of 27 under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, Ziadé’s book was not exhibited among the other literary items, but it would have been interesting to see it and maybe even get to flip through the pages. Although it was a very unique experience to see such rich literary objects on display in that tiny room, the selection was not really well explained. Contrary to the other rooms, it did not contain any necessary information or details about the authors’ work, origins, and interpretations which was probably problematic for members of the public who are not necessarily familiar with Arab culture and literature to grasp its very essence. Perhaps, it would have been useful to add texts and explanations on the wall right before the entry to help the visitors understand what the room was about. 

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalia © Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020

Through an artists’ entrance, the visitor proceeds to enter a small, reconstructed performance hall entitled “Seules sur scène,” dedicated more specifically to a series of concerts of some of the more famous singers such as Oum Kalthoum, Fairouz and Warda. The curators transformed the room into a theatre, as they placed some chairs and dimmed the lights. There were even subtitles in French to accompany the songs sung by the divas on the screen. This translation was particularly welcome, as it did help people who don’t speak Arabic fathom the powerful lyrics. This room was like a profane trance for me because it made me feel and experience a profound emotion.

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida © Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020

In a hall further along, there was a display of screenshots of vintage films in which various Arab actresses played a major role that helped emancipate Arab women. On a grey wall, there were about 5 to 6 “photomontages” made from copies of original films of the classical period, exhibiting different scenes where an actress could be seen arguing about women’s rights and advocating for freedom, delivered with French subtitles. It was really inspiring to put these on the wall on a lower level, as it was more accessible and closer for the visitors to inspect. I am not sure whether these sorts of screenshots were randomly or chronologically organized because there was not any description next to it.

In the last part of the exhibition, there was a hall with film and music album posters hung from the ceiling, which made the path quite dynamic and stimulating. Alongside these posters, wall texts covered in photographs, books and articles, allowed visitors to discover lesser known artists as Laila Mourad, a Jewish singer who was starred in Egyptian Musicals. In this last hall, the exhibition raises questions about the legacy of the Divas’ who are still very present in today’s remixed music. 

© Divas, d’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida © Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2020

At the end, we come back from a profound artistic trance as the staff brings us hydroalcoholic gels, reminding us of our own time. Altogether, I thought the dimly lit exhibition vividly recreates a legendary era that never ceased to be Divas. Hearing each Diva’s own songs while discovering the vibrant collection was soothing but it was also a celebration of Arabic literature, since all these songs tend to be adaptations of famous poems also written by famous poets and writers. The thematic and the chronological organization of the exhibition effectively sparked an energy and was incredibly informative. The exhibition was a breathtaking journey into the lives and art of these legendary singers and actresses, but also a quest for the Arabic literature.

Celia Hocine, étudiante en M2
Master MC2L Media Cultures 2 langues-Parcours anglais
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones
Université Paris 8

Vogue Paris: 100 years of Elegance

Paris. Founded by the American company Condé Nast in 1920, Vogue magazine is celebrating its 100th birthday. The exhibition, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, will be on display at the Palais Galliera – the fashion museum of Paris dedicated to the art and history of clothing and haute couture.

Paris Vogue 1920-2020 is a sublime retrospective, recounting the history of the magazine through archives including more than 400 illustrations, photographs, films and documents, as well as haute couture designer creations. In the magazine, Paris is depicted as the epicenter of cultural and artistic life, and the embodiment of feminine elegance. 

Divided into six sections, the exhibition offers a chronological tour of the history of Vogue Paris. The visitor travels through the successive periods that have marked the magazine, and witnesses its ability to renew itself through time and to expand its notoriety. The tour of the exhibition begins with the 1,007 front covers of Vogue Paris that welcome the visitor.

Panorama of the 1,007 magazine covers ©Vogue Paris © Palais Galliera, 2022 © Zoya Pasquinet

From illustration to photography, each period has a strong visual set-up, marked by a clear aesthetic rupture. These covers are the proof of a constant aesthetic evolution, as well as the changes in the world of fashion. 

Each room is spacious, meticulously organized with a variety of media – photographs and drawings adorning the walls, videos, books, handwritten letters and haute couture creations behind display cases – contribute to the success of the exhibition. At the entrance of each new room, explanations about the period and the major changes in the history of the magazine are provided, both in French and in English. 

If the first part of the exhibition is more classic and sober, the Black frames on the flashy walls of the last three rooms might make you think of a Piet Mondrian painting. The use of bright colors and the lighting effect give a very modern look, which contrasts sharply with the first rooms dedicated to the magazine’s beginnings. 

In addition, the exhibition highlights the work of photographers such as Yves Klein, G. Hoyningen-Huene, and H. Horst who started their careers thanks to the magazine. It pays tribute to Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld who have worked closely with the magazine, as well as to Catherine Deneuve and Kate Moss who have been on the most front covers of the magazine. 

The exhibition invites the visitor to dive into the history of Paris Vogue Magazine by showing its ability to be creative, as well as its influential authority in the world of fashion. The exhibition is perfectly clear, and highlighted by fabulous archives that take the viewer through time. However, given the magazine’s worldwide reputation and influence, a spectacular element would have been expected at the end of the visit, which may leave the visitor a bit frustrated. 

This exhibition is highly recommended for fashion and art lovers, fans of photography and vintage fashion à la française. It is accessible not only to tourists coming to Paris, but also to the curious members of the public who wish to know discover fashion through literature and via the history of a unique magazine. 

Zoya PASQUINET (étudiante en M2)
Cours Literature and the Media : Representations, Adaptations, Exhibitions
Master MC2L
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones
Université Paris 8

Fake News in the Age of COVID-19

Paris. Every minute, as many as 6,000 tweets are sent out and over 500 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube. How can we differentiate between legitimate and false information? How can we deal with fake news and help citizens sharpen their critical thinking? Fondation EDF’s exhibition ‘Fake News: Art, Fiction, Mensonge’ dives deep into that question.

The exhibition is available from the 27th of May of 2021 until the 30th of January of 2022. It is hosted at Fondation Groupe EDF’s space in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. Born from a collective brought together by Laurence Lamy, the General Delegate of the Foundation, the exhibition features artwork by various French and foreign artists. The guest artists question the omnipresence of the media, which has the power to shape our vision of the world, inviting us to take distance from this content that feeds us day after day, until full saturation. Each contributor, in their own medium, depicts themes such as news media, the internet, social networks, and the ever-increasing flow of information and images that further feed into fake news. Additionally, there is a very thorough booklet that is used as pedagogical material, which is available online. An exhibition catalogue can be purchased at the venue or online for the price of 18 euros.

©Exhibition poster for ‘Fake News: Art, Fiction, Mensonge’ © Espace Fondation EDF, Paris, 2022

The poster of the exhibition, as shown above, features a photo taken from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This choice can be explained by the very fact that the term “fake news” has witnessed a remarkable rise, and has become commonly used thanks to Trump. The phenomenon of “fake news” is usually described to be a Trumpian trend for two reasons. Firstly, President Trump first tweeted “fake news” on December 10th of 2016, and since then, he has excessively attacked established media οutlets by accusing them of ‘fake news,’ referring either to the salacious Russia dossier, or to a lack of coverage of his political meetings. Secondly, many reports associate Trump’s 2016 election victory to his use of different fake news methodologies. According to The Washington Post, Trump told 30,573 lies. Trump’s close relationship with the phenomenon of fake news has led him to appropriate the term. According to Trump himself, he is the inventor of the term. The Fake News: Art, Fiction, Mensonge exhibition poster relies on the audience’s prior knowledge to link Trump with the theme of fake news.

The title Fake News: Art, Fiction, Mensonge reflects the different elements of the exhibition. “Fake News” is the backbone or theme of the exhibition that is tackled by the various artworks present within. The word “fiction” gives a certain literary dimension to the exhibition. Christine Paskin (2018) defines “fake news” as “particular news articles that originate either on mainstream media (online or offline) or social media and have no factual basis, but are presented as facts and not satire”. This definition draws a parallel between fake news and fiction as a literary genre. Fake news, just like literature, is a fictitious piece of information and a work of imagination. 


The concept of “fake news” is nothing new, but the COVID-19 health crisis seems to have accelerated the epidemic of misinformation, the World Health Organisation dubbing the phenomenon “an infodemic.” The exhibition approaches the topic of fake news through the lens of the recent pandemic and a vast amount of the works exhibited treat the idea of fake news surrounding the spread of COVID. One of the works exhibited features an infographic that demonstrates how false information linked with the epidemic spreads significantly faster than other fake news.

Géométrie de l’espace’ by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (2014). © Photo Elina Kahkonen © Fondation EDF, Paris, 2022

Fondation EDF is the exhibition’s very first venue. As the exhibition is created in collaboration with CLEMI (Centre pour l’Éducation aux Médias et à l’Information), its main target audience are students and youth who are just starting to engage with the media. However, anyone can attend and enjoy this exhibition, as the subject matter concerns just about everyone. The entry is also free of charge, which is a major plus. The exhibition is suitable for all ages, it is interactive, engaging and above all informative and useful.


The exhibition is organised in a thematic order, beginning from the fabrication of fake news, then moving onto “Diffusion,” “Solutions,” and “Additional Information.” There are four sections in this exhibition, and although the space is open, it is clear when a new section begins. The “Diffusion” and part of the “Solutions” sections are on the second floor, but the space still feels very coherent as the viewer can look into the first floor from the second floor’s balcony and admire some of the artworks in their whole glory. There are also arrows on the floor that indicate direction and the suggested viewing order, which is very helpful. 

Our main impression of the space was how clear and luminous it was. As one advances towards the final part of the exhibition, “Additional Information,” the lighting becomes slightly more subdued and the walls are black instead of white and green. The material available at the exhibition is exceptionally varied and multimodal, including text, audio documents, videos, clips from movies, visual art, and installation art. The only piece of literature, a book cataloguing scam emails, is displayed on a shelf and may be freely browsed by visitors.

The exhibition’s last section. Photo: Elina Kahkonen © Fondation EDF, Paris 2022

Each section of the exhibition features ten-to-fifteen lines detailing each theme. There is just the right amount of text to explain the artwork and its context. However, we would have appreciated a more varied selection of languages, as all text is in French, meaning the exhibition is not very foreigner-friendly. There are videos that include audio, and what we found particularly enjoyable was that the audio documents only activate when the visitor steps in an illuminated spot that, with visuals, allows for a possibility to listen. In this way, the museum space does not feel cluttered with noises. The space has a very consistent design that illustrates the theme quite well.

Opinion and Analysis

Souvenir from the exhibition: a card illustrated by Chez Gertrud. ©Photo Elina Kahkonen

The exhibition’s thematic organization is well planned, which makes it pleasant to walk through; the transitions from one theme to another are smooth and clear. There is a lot of information available on the exhibited art and fake news in general. It is engaging and rewarding for the visitor to learn so much in an exhibition.

Critical thinking

What makes the exhibition particularly captivating is its rich content that allows for different readings. Indeed, the diversity of the formats used — from photos, we go to press cartoons, then to videos or sculpture — makes it possible to think about the issues raised by the propagation of fake news from a variety of different angles. For example, certain works feature key moments in which fake news have been particularly influential (September 11, 2001, the election of Obama, the presidential campaign, etc.). This makes us question our place in receiving and spreading news: at the time, did we hear about it? Did we believe it? Have we talked about it? Many questions can be raised by the visitors that lead to critical thinking. 

Interaction with Visitors

What we also liked about the exhibition was how it lends itself to interact with visitors. The artworks regularly invite us to play a role that makes us depart from our position of simple observers to active visitors. For instance, from the start of the tour, G255, a work by French artist Alain Josseau, created in 2020, invites us to discover the secrets of making a video. The work features a video of destroyed buildings that runs in front of a green background. With the use of a camera, the viewer can slip between the video and the green background, and in turn appear in the video. This artwork aims at showing that it is very easy to embed anything in the video thanks to this simple green background, and to extract a false video from it, which can then be broadcast widely. Indeed, what we learn is that we have to question what we read, what we see, and what we hear without taking it for granted. This interaction makes it easy for visitors,  especially students,  to learn and understand the message. 

G255, Alain Josseau, 2020 © Alain Josseau, courtesy Galerie Claire Gastaud © Fondation EDF, Paris 2022

Exploring literature from an unconventional point of view

When we talk about literature, the first things that comes to our mind are fiction, poems, short stories, and plays. This exhibition goes beyond the traditional literary forms to explore fact fiction that is presented in journalism through the phenomenon of fake news. We appreciated the way in which the exhibition managed to show how news, fake news in particular, can be considered as literature, as both of them are products of imagination. Just like literature, news can be constructed and manipulated. The exhibition was a reflection on the craft of writing and its power. While literature serves art, fake news seeks to mislead public opinion. Described as “fiction,” fake news invite visitors to reflect on the very nature of the media to make sure that they do not take them for granted.

Fake News. Art, Fiction, Mensonge
Espace Fondation EDF
May, 27 2021- January, 30 2022

Elina KAHKONEN & Narimane DHAOUI (étudiantes en Master 2)
Cours Literature and the Media : Representations, Adaptations, Exhibitions
Master MC2L Médias, Cultures, 2 langues
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones
Université Paris 8

Autoportrait d’une commissaire d’exposition imaginaire

PARIS. Regards: rien ne laisse présager que ce sujet si vaste, déjà vu, mille fois traité sous tous les angles par les critiques d’art, puisse proposer de nouvelles perspectives sur notre rapport aux œuvres. Que faut-il voir derrière ce mot ? Regards de qui et sur quoi ? Quel est le lien avec le lieu ? S’agit-il des visions du Victor Hugo dessinateur ou, au contraire, de regards croisés d’artistes sur l’écrivain ?

Sur l’affiche accompagnée d’un intitulé succinct, sans sous-titre ni article, une statue à la fenêtre semble guetter les passants, observant, au loin, la Place des Vosges. Mis en déroute dès l’arrivée, le visiteur n’en sait pas plus lorsqu’il pénètre sous le porche de l’hôtel de Rohan-Guémené. À moins qu’il ne s’agisse d’une invitation à venir regarder les nouvelles acquisitions de cette maison-musée qui a ré-ouvert ses portes en mai 2021 après d’importants travaux de rénovation et dans laquelle il est désormais possible de prendre un café dans la cour. La restauration a surtout été l’occasion de concevoir un nouveau dispositif de médiation, visible à travers de nouveaux cartels, plusieurs bornes numériques ainsi qu’un espace pédagogique pour recevoir le public. Les collections ont également bénéficié de nouvelles acquisitions. Une fois entré, en haut de l’escalier, le spectateur a-t-il seulement remarqué le portrait inversé de Rembrandt (Rembrandt aux cheveux hérissés, 1631) qui l’accueille ?

Le confinement aurait-il reconfiguré notre vision du monde ? Voyons-nous différemment la réalité depuis ? C’est que semblent suggérer les musées si l’on en juge par le nombre d’expositions qui questionnent depuis lors notre rapport au visible, ou pour le dire avec Didi-Huberman, à ce que nous voyons et ce qui nous regarde. 

Entrée dans l’exposition Regards © Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, 2022 © MuséaLitté

Regards croisés : l’œil du peintre vs l’œil
du commissaire d’exposition

Le parcours divisé en trois espaces (L’œil, l’autoportrait ; Voir ou regarder ; Vision, imagination ; Mythes et réalités) s’ouvre sur une première salle qui traite de la nature du regard dans l’art à travers une scénographie très dépouillée qui facilite la circulation d’un objet à un autre. Une première série de définitions au mur délimite le périmètre en présentant d’emblée le regard comme une « représentation du monde », un « voyage qui s’effectuera ici à travers des œuvres qui témoignent de ce que les artistes hier comme aujourd’hui, ont su discerner, méditer et transmettre. » Une petite sélection d’objets de natures variées (masques, ex voto, vidéo, esquisses), réalisés à différentes époques, illustrent le lien entre l’œil et le monde, tout en montrant de quelles manières l’œil miniature peut aussi fonctionner comme un autoportrait, à l’image de ces lovers’s eyes, ou médaillons, qui circulaient dans les cours européennes et que l’on s’offrait entre amants.

Vitrine de l’exposition Regards, Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, 2022, Broches-pendentifs, Gouache, monture en or ©Musée Carnavalet, Paris, photographie ©MuséaLitté

Clin d’œil au lieu d’exposition, le portrait de Victor Hugo, réalisé par Auguste Vacquerie en 1853, à l’époque où Hugo, après la mort de Léopoldine, s’initie au spiritisme dans sa maison de Jersey, nous donne à voir le poète les yeux fermés, en communication avec l’au-delà. Ce portrait qui côtoie une tête sculptée par un enfant, trouvée dans les décombres de Pompéi, témoigne à la fois de l’éducation artistique à l’époque et du devoir de mémoire. Par un télescopage habile, une série d’autoportraits de Rembrandt représentant le peintre les yeux successivement ouverts, fermés, plissés, rieurs, répond aux photographies du poète de la Beat Generation, Bryon Gysin qui décline le même thème dans Am what I am (1961).

Vue de la première salle de l’exposition Regards © Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, 2022 © MuséaLitté

Si le dispositif scénographique invite le public à ouvrir l’œil, en s’interrogeant sur le point de vue de l’artiste, et plus généralement sur la place du regard dans l’œuvre, il ouvre une réflexion tout aussi passionnante sur la fonction du commissaire d’exposition dont on nous livre ici un étonnant portrait. Une fois n’est pas coutume, la commissaire d’exposition est nommée et incarnée par une certaine Lucienne Forest, présentée comme étant « ni spécialise des musées ni historienne d’art ».

Le visiteur perspicace découvrira au cours de la visite qu’il s’agit en réalité un projet collectif assuré par Paris Musée, le Groupe Hospitalier Universitaire (GHU) Paris Psychiatrie et Neurosciences et le Groupe d’entraide Mutuelle (GEM) Le Passage, un conservateur du patrimoine et la responsable du service des publics de Maison de Victor Hugo.

Ce n’est pas seulement l’œuvre que le visiteur apprend à observer différemment, à travers le personnage de Lucienne Forest, il est amené à réfléchir sur la conception même de l’exposition et au-delà, sur ce qu’on cherche à lui montrer.

Voir ou regarder ? Les modalités du visible

Cette deuxième salle propose différentes expériences pratiques permettant au public de mieux percevoir les différentes manières de voir plus fugaces, des regards vagabonds, volés, interdits ou voyeurs. Qui regarde qui dans cette étrange mise en abime de Jean Béraud, Au Café, dit l’Absinthe, 1909 ? Quel est ce curieux personnage qui se dérobe aux regards, la tête enfoncée dans son assiette sur le tableau d’Eduardo Arroyo ? Les miroirs disposés de part et d’autre de la pièce interceptent la silhouette des passants qui n’échappent pas à leur reflet, tandis que sur le mur opposé, trois ouvertures ont été découpées pour faire apparaître une deuxième cloison, derrière laquelle sont dissimulées plusieurs toiles. 

Deuxième salle Voir ou regarder, exposition Regards © Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, 2022 © Photographie MuséaLitté

Plus loin, si l’on joue le jeu, un œilleton dans un mur laisse apparaître une statue, la Baigneuse surprise d’Aimé-Jules Dalou, 1899, tandis qu’à droite, une porte entrebâillée révèle, sans que l’on puisse s’en approcher, un tableau de Charles-Frédéric Lauth, La Salle à manger de George Sand à Nohant. La toile est là, bien présente, tout à fait visible mais elle reste inaccessible ; impossible d’entrer dans la pièce, laissant le visiteur frustré, au seuil du tableau.

Vue de l’exposition Regards, Maison Victor Hugo Paris, Aimé-Jules Dalou, Baigneuse surprise, 1899 ©Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, photographie©MuséaLitté

Et voilà que les tableaux se mettent à parler : tandis que Lucienne Forest communique avec les visiteurs via les cartels : « Expérimentez quelques-uns de ces regards à travers des dispositifs au sein desquels les œuvres se laissent découvrir plus ou moins facilement », les œuvres à leur tour prennent la parole par l’intermédiaire de bulles rectangulaires sur fond gris : « Te voici, enfin, visiteur… Te souviens-tu de ces temps étranges où Paris confiné semblait s’être vidé ? Maintenant que tu es là, enfin peut-être songeras-tu comme moi que ces portraits attendaient de te voir ?».

L’exposition joue sur les différentes modalités du voir en dissociant ce qui est aperçu en un clin d’œil, là où l’œil s’égare mais aussi l’impression, l’émotion, que dégage la chose regardée. Et que dire de ce que l’on ne regarde pas ? Comme cette palissade oubliée sur un chantier que Raymond Hains expose comme une œuvre d’art (La Gitane, 1960-1968) ou ces photographies de sans-abris dont on ne distingue pas le visage. Sont-ils visibles ou invisibles ? Qui les voit dans la rue ? Les œuvres existent-elles lorsqu’elles ne sont pas observées ? Autant de questions auxquelles cette exposition tente de répondre.

Inventer une autre vision : apparitions/disparitions

La salle suivante intitulée Vision, Imagination, nous ramène à l’univers de Victor Hugo et à ses paysages minuscules qui répondent aux photographies de Klavdij Sluban en quête du fantôme de l’homme de lettres dans les miroirs d’Hauteville House à Guernesey. On retrouve la même ombre au tableau chez les artistes rassemblés dans cette pièce. Visions, rêves, images hantées, hallucinations, c’est bien d’apparitions dont il est question ici. Les encres d’Hugo répondent aux spectres d’Odilon Redon et notamment à sa série de lithographies consacrées à la traduction de l’ouvrage de Edward Bulwer-Lytton, La Maison hantée. Que voit-on sur ces images brumeuses ? Quel est ce personnage ? Une ombre ? Un fantôme ? Notre regard nous joue des tours, à moins que ce ne soit notre imagination.

Vue de l’exposition Regards, Maison Victor Hugo, 2022, Regards fantomatiques ©Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris © MuséaLitté

Le regard en écho : du mythe au smartphone 

Dans cette dernière partie, Mythes et réalités, il est question des mythes qui accordent une place fondamentale au regard : on y retrouve Actéon, Œdipe, Tirésias, Diane, Orphée, Narcisse, tous liés au sacrifice du voir ou à la tragédie de ne pas voir. Il s’agit ici de montrer comment les artistes, comme Dali ou Nodier, ont pu s’emparer de ces récits pour proposer à leur tour leur propre interprétation. Une sculpture de Bourdelle, Tête de méduse, nd., une autre de Zadkine, (Diane, 1937), jouxtent une lithographie en noir et blanc de Dali représentant le géant Argus, « celui qui voit tout ».

De l’autre côté du mur, le monde gréco-romain est mis en résonance avec d’autres façons d’épuiser le visible, avec les selfies ou des caméras de surveillance. Les drones ont-ils changé notre façon de regarder le monde ? La technologie n’est pas la seule responsable de notre changement de perspective. Le regard sur l’autre a évolué lui aussi, une série d’affiches de films nous oblige à reconsidérer des portraits de femmes sous l’angle du male gaze, tandis que d’autres conceptions du voir sont envisagées comme le regard animal, ou la portée politique d’une image.

Vue de l’exposition Regards, Maison Victor Hugo, 2022,  la salle Regards, ©Maison  Victor Hugo, Paris, photographie ©musicalité

Au moment de quitter la salle, un étrange miroir sur lequel il est écrit « Avant de nous quitter », interpelle le visiteur et l’invite à effectuer un retour réfléchi sur ce qu’il a vu. À nouveau, la commissaire d’exposition s’adresse à lui : « Il se pourrait que je ne sois, moi, Lucienne Forest, qu’un regard, ou un clin d’œil », à cet endroit précis la salle se dédouble et révèle un espace de travail le long d’un couloir, celui-là même de Lucienne Forest, présente in absentia à travers des photos de famille, sa veste encore au dos de la chaise. On y découvre ses sources d’inspiration, ouvrages de référence, objets de décoration, quelques fleurs séchées, notes personnelles et mots d’amis en accès libre que le public peut feuilleter s’il souhaite en savoir davantage sur les dessous d’une exposition très originale.

Dernière salle de l’exposition Regards, Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, 2022, photographie © MuséaLitté

Anne Chassagnol
Université Paris 8

Reconnecting through Storytelling at the V&A

London. While many cultural institutions have finally re-opened their doors, questions still remain on the tip of many of our carefully-masked tongues. How should museums embrace a public that has been bombarded with such rapid, radical changes? The Victorian & Albert Museums is about to reopen in 2021 with 3 ground-breaking exhibitions, on Alice, Iran and Samplers.

As spaces that mediate and disseminate our individual and collective stories, as archives of both time long since past and that which might still be yet to come, museums seem the most likely to hold the answers we seek. They are in a rare position to cradle our chronological anxieties and existential inquiries, as we look to repair the holes torn through our social fabric, and reflect on all that we have managed to stitch together thus far, despite the odds. More importantly, museums provide with us the opportunity to weave new threads into our collective history, and to re-examine the narratives we share with one another in the process.

An employee tours the immersive Epic Iran exhibit, via Gulf Today. © Reuters

An employee tours the immersive Epic Iran exhibit, via Gulf Today. © Reuters

This summer, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London asks how we might reread, reinvent, and reimagine that collective history by inviting visitors on not just one, but three unique journeys through time. From the poetic reproduction of an antique textile sampler (Katerina Jebb x Elizabeth Parker), to a whimsical plunge into the legacy of Lewis Carroll’s most epic work (‘Alice: Curioser and Curiouser’), to an immersive voyage across 5,000 years of Iranian history (‘Epic Iran’), the V&A wrangles the ever-elusive, ethereal nature of time into three captivating curated encounters. In doing so, they open the eyes of a newly reconnected public to how each individual impacts the larger group, from the most romantic to the most toilsome forms of creative expression.

Katerina Jebb / Elizabeth Parker © The Victoria & Albert Museum

Katerina Jebb / Elizabeth Parker © The Victoria & Albert Museum, London

British artist Katerina Jebb’s installation transforms a small 19th century embroidery sampler created by Elizabeth Parker, born 1813, into a large-scale column. Taken from the V&A’s archives, the original piece contains the hand-stitched autobiography of young Parker, a domestic worker plagued by trauma and desperately seeking tenderness in her struggle to hold on to faith. Jebb amplifies Parker’s voice by assembling an expanded photomontage made up of high-definition scans. By turning the intimate into an imposing object, Jebb quite literally magnifies the marginalised, and in doing so, nods to the magnitude of narratives that have been overlooked or erased by history thus far. The digitisation of Parker’s scrupulous labor, both within the walls of the museum and online, in a way symbolically liberates her from the material conditions that constrained her all her life, including her limited means of self-expression. Jebb allows her to transcend time, medium, and space, and ultimately to express the perpetual human desire to be held, to be seen, and to be heard.

Still from Curious Alice, a VR experience created by the V&A and HTC Vive Arts. Featuring original artwork by Kristjana S Williams, 2020, via © The Victoria & Albert Museum

Still from Curious Alice, a VR experience created by the V&A and HTC Vive Arts. Featuring original artwork by Kristjana S Williams, 2020, via © The Victoria & Albert Museum

In ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’, V&A Senior Curator and Producer Kate Baily presents visitors with over 350 objects spanning nearly 160 years of the legacy of Charles Dodgson’s classic children’s tale,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From 19th century original sketches by the British mathematician turned author (better known as Lewis Carroll), to a very 21st century immersive ‘Looking-Glass’ experience, this rich and exciting exhibition includes an enormous range of paintings, fashion, photography, film, graphic novels, and even political activism from all around the world, inspired by the eponymous protagonist herself. Alice herself becomes a revelatory symbol of the limitlessness of the collective imagination, as an infinitely renewable source of shared inspiration and innovation. Each new interpretation of her story or character draws visitors’ attention to a different form of artistic ingenuity, but also to that which we all share as an interconnected web of creators, viewers, dreamers, and of course readers.

 © Wellcome Collection Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411. © Wellcome Collection

© Wellcome Collection Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan, 1411 © Wellcome Collection

The exhibition features awe-inspiring `ancient pieces such as the Cyrus Cylinder (539-8 BC) or ‘the world’s greatest epic poem’, Shahnameh or The Book of Kings (AD 1010). It also includes rare Koranic texts, elaborate poetry and textiles that flourished under royal patronage, early 19th century photography, art during the Islamic Revolution, and even installations from world-renowned contemporary artists like Shirin Neshat. The show’s epic proportions, spanning so many different cultural shifts, allow amateurs and experts alike to dive into the complexity of a history that tends to be oversimplified by recent politics and news headlines. Moreover, the larger story told through this diverse range of art objects asks visitors to reflect on how major changes and cultural shifts may nevertheless form a whole. What parts of history, whether they be our own or someone else’s, have we chosen to overlook? Where and how might we revisit, reconnect, re-envision the narratives we tell to one another?

After a year of extraordinary upheaval and unrest across the world, these exhibitions from the V&A inspire us to reflect on the anxious times we inhabit in a new way. Although the future feels incredibly uncertain now, these exhibitions remind us that many an idea, many a piece of art, many a story has transcended the rife changes brought on by the course of time. How might we uplift and magnify the voices of those who have gone unheard? How might we envision ourselves within a larger network of collective inspiration? How might we emphasize beauty, complexity, and abundance in that which many tend to minimise or overlook? Perhaps the answer to our present uncertainty lies in the telling, retelling, and re-imagining of the collective narratives that bring us together; those which allow us to celebrate, rather than fear the change that has constantly propelled our story.

Victoria & Albert Museum • London, UK
〝Katerina Jebb x Elizabeth Parker〞(until 29 August 2021)
•  〝Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser〞(until 31 December 2021)
•  〝Epic Iran〞(until 12 September 2021)

Sam Gabbert, étudiante en M2
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Cours Literature and the Media
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection

New York. From January 25th 2021 to January 30th 2022, the Morgan Library & Museum brings Versailles to Manhattan with the exquisite book collection of Jayne Wrightman, notorious New York socialite, francophile, philanthropist, and art collector.

Aside from a close relationship to John F. Kennedy and his widow ‘Jackie O.’, the late Mrs. Wrightman and her husband were well-known for their fascination with 18th-century French court life, buying up furniture, artwork, and books owned by kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses throughout their lives. Their antique book collection was a central feature of their Versailles-inspired apartment overlooking Central Park, complete with parquet, imported boiseries, gilded furnishings, and an impressive set of rare objets d’art. In recognition of Jayne Wrightman’s generosity, a longtime donor and trustee of the Morgan, and in reflection of her fondness for French decorative arts, this special exhibition examines the important role of the bound book as both art object and cultural symbol during the ancien régime in France.

"- Bound for Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset (1708–1776) Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder Cut binding in cream and black morocco, with individual gilt tooling, and gold, silver, and red foil under mica, on: Almanach royal, année M. DCC. LXV, 1765 PML 19842" © The Morgan Library & Museum

“Bound for Pierre-Louis-Paul Randon de Boisset (1708–1776) Nicolas-Denis Derome (1731–1790), binder Cut binding in cream and black morocco, with individual gilt tooling, and gold, silver, and red foil under mica, on: Almanach royal, année M. DCC. LXV, 1765 PML 19842” © The Morgan Library & Museum

In addition to examining how books circulated within the court and associated inner circles, the museum provides insight into the intricate craft of antique bookbinding. From armorials and individual tooling to mosaic binding and remboîtages, the exhibition allows visitors to better understand the fine details and artisanal labor that went into each individual book.

The hot-air balloon signifies the Montgolfier brother’s experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts. Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790)
Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79 © The Morgan Library & Museum

The hot-air balloon signifies the Montgolfier brother’s experiments. It was a feature element in all types of decorative arts.Bound for Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793)
. Red morocco, with gilt tooling “à la Montgolfière” and monogram, on: Barthélemy Imbert (1747–1790)
  Lecture du matin and Lecture du soir, 1782
PML 198378–79. © The Morgan Library & Museum

The Wrightsman collection was anything but limited to books, however. The exhibition also includes an extensive collection of royal correspondance and documents dated from the 17th to 19th century, drawings by Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), and assorted literary engravings from the same period.

In a nod to the woman who made the exhibition possible, there is also a special section dedicated to the women of Versailles who owned and collected books. These examples can be identified thanks to the woman’s family coat of arms, which was traditionally accompanied by that of her husband. Notable exceptions to this rule include books owned by Louis XV’s mistress and daughters, marking the rare independence that these particular women had in the court.

Bound for Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764). Louis Douceur (d. 1769), binder. Dark green morocco, with red morocco mosaic inlays, and gilt dentelle and armorial, on: Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685–1770) Chronologique de l’histoire de France, 1752. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1910; PML 17282. © The Morgan Library & Museum

Bound for Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721–1764). Louis Douceur (d. 1769), binder. Dark green morocco, with red morocco mosaic inlays, and gilt dentelle and armorial, on: Charles-Jean-François Hénault (1685–1770) Chronologique de l’histoire de France, 1752. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1910; PML 17282. © The Morgan Library & Museum

In the end, ‘Bound for Versailles’ is a touching reminder of the transcendent magic that books and libraries contain, both in the home and the museum. Even confined to the virtual exhibition, visitors may encounter the subtleties of an antique art form, and taste the charm of a time and craft long since past.

The exhibition will be open from 25 June 2021 through 30 January 2022 at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, NY, as well as on the museum website. Visit the Morgan online for more information.

Sam Gabbert, étudiante en M2
Master 2 MC2L Médias Cultures 2 langues,
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 
Université Paris 8


‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’: Literature that never dies

Chicago. Nearly 10 years after the internationally renowned writer’s passing, ‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ (May 2021-May 2022) explores the ways in which Bradbury’s work has inspired readers, scientists, and fellow artists alike throughout his life, and even well after his death. 


Split into three sections, the virtual exhibit traces how Bradbury’s early life led him to the prolific career he is known for today. Family tragedy led him towards a passion for magic, which in turn developed into a fascination for science fiction. He was an avid reader of many literary genres, influenced in particular by Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and John Steinbeck. As a young man, his love for reading quickly grew into a love for writing, which in turn led him to connect with like-minded peers. He began publishing a fanzine titled Futuria Fantasia (1939-1940), which included work from several science fiction writers and artists that, like Bradbury, would become quite famous later on. Some notable names include Hannes Bok, Henry Kuttner, Robert A. Heinlein, and Forrest J. Ackerman.

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo credit: Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo ©Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

While most have heard of Bradbury’s McCarthy-era dystopian fiction Fahrenheit 451 (1953), not everyone may be aware of his extensive writing about space travel. His work inspired an entire generation of astronauts and engineers not only from his home country, but also their Space Race-era opposition in the Soviet Union.

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

Aside from science-lovers, Bradbury also inspired the imagination of beloved creators like Walt Disney, who was one of the writer’s close friends for many years. His influence can be seen in multiple installations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris.

Interestingly enough, despite the out-of-this-world nature of both his work and cultural influence, Bradbury was much more down to earth than some may have thought. He was never much of a fan of technological advances. In fact, he allegedly never learned to drive and for years preferred to write on a manual typewriter at his wooden desk at home. Bradbury was however a fan of oil painting and exchanging letters. Throughout his life, he made a special effort to personally respond to fans from around the world.

Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts

“Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts.” © American Writers Museum

Recently, many have referred to the classic Fahrenheit 451 (1953) in a pessimistic reflection on the political, social, and cultural woes of the digital age. However, if this exhibition on Bradbury’s life and work has anything to teach us, it’s that within creativity and imagination lies infinite power to transform the world, far beyond what we may think possible. Moreover, creative expression can bring the world together in exciting and unexpected ways.

While Bradbury passed away in 2012, his ‘inextinguishable’ influence continues to live on in authors, scientists, screenwriters, artists, filmmakers, comic book artists, and students of all ages. Something about his futuristic work and the humanity of his literature continues to light a spark in readers everywhere.

‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ will be on view from May 2021 to May 2022 at the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago, as well as online in a virtual exhibit. Visit the American Writers Museum website for more information: 

Sam Gabbert, étudiante en M2
Master MC2L
Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

Contemporary South African Comics Online

In the online exhibition ‘Afropolitain Comics’, comic books from across the African continent come alive to shed light on artists and cross-cultural connections alike. The curators of this digital display without borders seek to provide visitors worldwide with insight into the ‘spirit of African invigoration shared by our continent, our home.’

Through the partnership of l’Institut français d’Afrique du Sud (IFAS) and La Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image (CIBDI), the dedicated exhibition website showcases a selection of contemporary South African comic book artists alongside those from other African nations who address similar ideas and themes. The presentation is divided into three successive chapters titled ‘Autobiography,’ ‘Heroes and History,’ and ‘Folklore & The Future.’

The first includes creative autobiographical narratives that convey hard political realities through the lens of imaginative, intimate stories. Artists include Mogorosi Motshumi and Willem Samuel from South Africa, as well as Annick Kamgang from Cameroon and Togui from Algeria.

Lucha © 2018 LA BOÎTE À BULLES / Annick Kamgang / Justine Brabant

©Lucha © 2018 LA BOÎTE À BULLES / Annick Kamgang / Justine Brabant

The next chapter focuses on artists who combine art and education in their comic books to spotlight the real-life superheroes of history. South African Lesego Ditlhake evokes women who fought against Apartheid by combining painting and prose, while Nigerian Tayo Fatunla’s work focuses on bringing the many notable figures of the African diaspora and their histories to larger audiences. South African artist Luke Molver and Koffi Roger N’Guessan from the Ivory Coast are also exhibited side-by-side in their interpretation of legendary African warrior Shaka/Chaka.

Our roots © 2020 / Tayo Fantunla

Our roots © 2020 / Tayo Fantunla

The final chapter displays work based on traditional African folklore. South African Daniel Clarke is inspired by the legend surrounding Zimbabwean river god Nyami-Nyami, as is Cameroonian Reine Dibussi by the local version of the myth of Mami-Wata. Daniël Hugo depicts the South African myth of Table Mountain, while Cameroonian Gaspard Njock calls into question the myth of Europe for young African migrants.

©Djeliya © 2020 KO Studios LA / Juni Ba

Ray Whitcher asks what might happen when ancient mythical creatures take over a war-torn land, and artist Juni Ba blends 21st century pop art with Senegalese folklore and mythology. Loyiso Mkize  likewise weaves heritage with the modern world in his story of a South African social media influencer turned superhero. Bill Masuku, on the other hand, takes his superhero inspiration from the ambitious women he went to university with and their fight for a better future.

Kariba © 2018 Kariba Graphic Novel (PTY) LTD / Daniel Clarke

Kariba © 2018 Kariba Graphic Novel (PTY) LTD / Daniel Clarke

Each section invites viewers to dive into a multitude of exciting, colourful worlds, but most of all, to question the line so often drawn between fact and fiction. Sometimes, the imagination, whether it be individual or collective, has much to teach us about the real-world. Sometimes, our personal narrative is really much bigger than ourselves, and even myths and legends can teach us about truth and history. While fact and fiction may be blurred, ‘Afropolitan’ makes it abundantly clear that there are so many different stories to be told, and this exhibition may just be the beginning.

Highly recommended for art lovers, bookworms, comic book amateurs and afficionados alike, and especially those of us who have much to learn about the African continent and diaspora.

Exhibition available online in English and French.

Afropolitan exhibition opening. © Cher Ami






Sam Gabbert, étudiante en M2
Master 2 MC2L,
Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

Dandys and Drawings at Orsay

Paris. Originally scheduled to run through January 2021, the Musée d’Orsay exhibition aptly titled ”Beardsley” presented the work of a lesser known British artist (1872-1898) for the very first time in France. Organised in partnership with the Musée de l’Orangerie and Tate Britain, the latter also hosted the exhibition in London earlier in 2020.  

Largely unknown in France, yet widely renowned in the United Kingdom, Beardsley died tragically of tuberculosis at just 25 years old. He nevertheless left behind an extensive oeuvre of more than one thousand illustrations, of which the exhibition includes sixty selected works organised by date and theme. 

Spread across five separate rooms of different coloured backgrounds that highlight the black and white of Beardsley’s drawings, the exhibition begins with a biography accompanied by several portraits of the artist. Following a series of promotional posters created for libraries in a range of colourful flat tints, the first room is primarily dedicated to illustrations of myths and legends. From Perseus and King Arthur, to Tristan and Isolde, these original pieces are hung on display, as well as presented in display cases within the actual books they were created for. Inspired by a range of diverse influences, including medieval illustrations and Japanese art, Beardsley’s drawings prove intriguing not only for their aesthetic references, but also for their fine and often humorous details.   

Beardsley, Aubrey. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Beardsley, A. (1894) How Morgan Le Fay gave a shield to Sir Tristam. © Photo by Katan, E. 2020. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Attention to detail is also true of the works found in the second room. This part of the exhibition focuses on Beardsley’s illustrations for the English translation of Oscar Wilde’s one-act tragedy Salomé (1894), in which he depicts the eponymous character as a reflection of the “decadent fin de siècle” (translation: “decadent turn of the century”).  

Beardsley, Aubrey. (1894) How Morgan Le Fay gave a shield to Sir Tristam. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Beardsley, A. (1893) John and Salomé. © Photo by Katan, E. 2020. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Decadence is an ongoing theme in the third room dedicated to illustrations made for The Yellow Book, a British quarterly periodical on fine arts and literature published in London from 1894 to 1897. The drawings are largely inspired by Victorian high society, depicting scenes such as a night out at the theatre, for example. Although the publication was highly popular, Aubrey Beardsley was dismissed from his position as art editor in 1895 due to his association with Oscar Wilde, the latter having been condemned for indecency.  

Displays from the Beardsley exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay. Katan, E. 2020.

Displays from the Beardsley exhibition. Erotic drawings by Beardsley at the Musée d’Orsay. Photo by Katan, E. 2020. Musée d’Orsay Paris.© Photo by Katan, E. 2020. © Musée d’Orsay Paris.

As a response to Victorian society’s hypocrisy, torn between decadence and morality, Beardsley went on to draw erotic illustrations inspired by classical antiquity. These pieces are the focus of the fourth room, set against a crimson background reminiscent of the “red district.”

The final room in the exhibition is dedicated to illustrations created for The Savoy magazine, a periodical devoted to art and literature that stopped publication after only one year due to political controversy.  

Despite being split into separate rooms and categories, several recurring elements persist throughout Beardsley’s work. Grotesque characters, as well as classical and mythological references are some of the most immediately evident. The young British artist was also one of the first to depict gender fluidity and androgyny to a large audience, reflecting his personal affinity for defying moral codes and laws dictating Victorian-era ‘decency.’ In terms of style, it is interesting to note how although the majority of Beardsley’s illustrations are extraordinarily precise and detailed, full of thin lines and dots, others consist of relatively flat tinted drawings. Some are heavily saturated with thickets of black ornamentation, whilst others are comparatively empty, leaving the page almost completely blank. 

Erotic drawings by Beardsley at the Musée d'Orsay. Katan, E. 2020.

Erotic drawings by Beardsley at the Musée d’Orsay. Photo by Katan, E. 2020. Musée d’Orsay Paris.

On a personal note, despite having never heard of Aubrey Beardsley prior to visiting this exhibition, I am very pleased to have discovered him on this occasion. While I did not necessarily appreciate every drawing, I was impressed overall by the meticulousness and the audacity of his work. More importantly, I left with a better understanding of the cultural importance of Beardsley, including the lasting influence he has had on later generations. Below, for example, on the cover of the Beatles’ album Revolver (1966), one can see clear markers of his enduring artistic impact. 

More recently, Beardsley’s influence can be seen in illustrations created by designer Coralie Bickford-Smith for the Penguin Clothbound Classics series.  

Design by Bickford-Smith, C.  for The Travels by Polo, M.  © Penguin Random House

Given the unforeseen events of 2020, the exhibition was unfortunately not as crowded as it might have been under normal circumstances. However, the Musee d’Orsay allowed visitors to observe the drawings closely and for as long as necessary, making their visit a nevertheless pleasant experience.  


Exhibition poster. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Élodie Katan, étudiante en M2
Cours Literature and the Media
Master 2 MC2L, Médias, Cultures, 2 langues – Parcours anglais
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 
Université Paris 8


Aubrey Beardsley au Musée d’Orsay

Paris. En collaboration avec le Musée de l’Orangerie et le Tate Britain de Londres, la rétrospective du Musée d’Orsay (octobre 2020-janvier 2021) présente la carrière de Beardsley sous un angle thématique et chronologique, qui permet de retracer l’évolution de son style. Cette exposition itinérante fait suite à celle qui avait eu lieu à la Tate Britain (2020) et dont les commissaires d’expositions étaient Stephen Calloway et Caroline Corbeau-Parsons.

Le parcours de Beardsley aura été fugace mais n’en aura pas moins marqué les esprits. Né en 1872 à Brighton et mort en 1898 à Menton, Aubrey Beardsley a exercé son art entre l’âge de dix-neuf et vingt-cinq ans. Il meurt terrassé par la tuberculose dont il souffrait depuis l’âge de sept ans. Malgré cette courte carrière, il acquiert une renommée internationale très tôt, avec des œuvres d’une qualité unique, résolument modernes, en avance sur leur temps, et particulièrement transgressives pour l’époque. Le parcours de l’exposition ne rattache pas Beardsley à un mouvement artistique particulier, même si son œuvre rejoint l’Art Nouveau, dont ont fait partie Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha ou encore Toulouse-Lautrec, parmi les plus célèbres.  

Le style de Beardsley se démarque de ses contemporains et révolutionne l’illustration de l’époque, avec des influences pré-préraphaélites, japonisantes et même françaises vers la fin de sa carrière. L’artiste avait également une réputation de « dandy », cultivant une image d’excentrique provocant et mystérieux.  

Exhibition poster. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition poster. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Proche d’Oscar Wilde, dont il a illustré la pièce Salomé en 1907, Beardsley avait une véritable fascination pour la mythologie grecque et la littérature médiévale, des thèmes récurrents dans son œuvre. Son style unique, très stylisé et foisonnant de détails et de symboles mystiques, ou au contraire étonnamment épuré, offre une lecture inédite pour l’époque. Il a également produit de nombreuses illustrations satiriques, grotesques, érotiques, voire très explicites, qui mettent en scène la vie nocturne de Londres et tournent en ridicule l’hypocrisie et le puritanisme de la société victorienne. Il a travaillé sur différents types de supports, en particulier le livre illustré, le magazine et l’affiche de rue. 

Vue de la première salle de l’exposition © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Vue de la première salle de l’exposition  ©Musée d’Orsay, Paris ©Photo de A. Zaborski. 2020.

Répartie en six salles, l’exposition présente les célèbres illustrations en noir et blanc de Beardsley ainsi que les livres dans lesquels elles ont été publiées, notamment son premier grand projet, les dessins pour Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-1894) de Sir Thomas Malory, ou encore The Yellow Book, le magazine sulfureux dont il fut le directeur artistique. On peut ainsi contempler les objets finis à l’issue du processus d’illustration et voir comment étaient conçus et fabriqués les livres de l’époque. On peut également admirer quelques affiches publicitaires réalisées par Beardsley et la seule peinture connue de l’artiste.  

 Vue de la deuxième salle d’exposition © Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Vue de la deuxième salle d’exposition © Musée d’Orsay, Paris © Photo de A. Zaborski. 2020

Les salles sont Les différenciées les unes des autres par les couleurs des murs, plutôt foncées, donnant une ambiance assez sombre et intime au parcours, ce qui sied plutôt bien aux œuvres d’Aubrey Beardsley. Ces murs colorés peuvent en rebuter certains au premier abord, mais permettent néanmoins de mettre en valeur les illustrations en noir et blanc et de structurer le parcours. On peut déplorer que certaines salles soient peu lumineuses, ce qui n’aide pas pour contempler les œuvres dont la minutie exige un rapport de proximité mais c’est une mesure nécessaire aussi pour protéger les œuvres. L’autre point faible de l’exposition est lié à l’organisation de l’espace qui oblige le visiteur à sortir des salles dédiées pour revenir dans le musée afin de passer à la salle suivante. Le fait de briser la dynamique du parcours linéaire peut parfois disperser l’attention du public. Mais ces quelques défauts ne sauraient gâcher le plaisir qu’on a à visiter cette exposition audacieuse. Aubrey Beardsley est injustement méconnu en France alors qu’il a eu et continue d’avoir une grande influence dans le monde de l’art.  

Alicia Zaborski, étudiante en M2
Cours Literature and the Media
Master 2 MC2L, Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones
Université Paris 8

Photography by the book at Orsay

Paris. La photographie se livre (octobre 2020-janvier 2021) – a mysterious name for an even more mysterious exhibition – is tucked away on the 5th floor of the Musée d’Orsay. Curated by Marie Robert, it presents forty black and white photographs, all featuring books and all hand-selected from the museum’s very own archives. 

The objective of this rather small exhibition is to demonstrate how books persisted as a standard prop in 19th century photography. During the Victorian era, photography itself was still relatively new and experimental. This particular collection emphasizes the multiple functions a book can serve within the photograph, revealing in the process how literature can be distanced from the actual act of reading. In other words, the exhibition invites visitors to examine how literature can become the subject in a work of art.  

Displayed across one large, unified space, certain photographs contain portraits of well-known public figures (I.e. Victor Hugo, Edgar Degas…), while others portray family members or close friends of the artist in question. This diverse spectrum of models happens to mirror the variety of ways in which books themselves are incorporated into the selected images. 

Hawarden, C. <em><span class="NormalTextRun SpellingErrorV2 SCXW211592802 BCX0">Clementina</span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW211592802 BCX0"> Maude, fille de la photographe, au 5 Princes Gardens, à Londres</span>. </em>Circa 1862. Albumen print. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. © Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt.

Hawarden, C. Clementina Maude, fille de la photographe, au 5 Princes Gardens, à LondresCirca 1862. Albumen print. © Musée d’Orsay, Paris, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt.

In the example above, for instance, Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865), captured her daughter as a young lady in the act of reading a book. This was a rather bold artistic choice at a time when the concept of adolescence was yet to be envisaged by Victorian society. She chooses to portray her daughter not as a child, but rather as a young woman, with nude shoulders and a beautiful, fancy dress. The pages of the book she is reading mirror the folds of said dress. As a viewer, it piques our curiosity: which book might so captivate her attention to the extent that she does not even notice the camera?  This is just one example of how books are used to create mystery in photography. Another is the following work by Francesco Bruneri (1849-1926).  


©Between 1890 and 1910. Silver print. ©Musée d’Orsay, Paris © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt.” width=”222″ height=”300″>

In this close-up of a woman’s ankle, the sense of mystery is achieved slightly differently. Are books so despicable that they can be stepped on in such a way? The image is puzzling, to say the least. Is this position an excuse to photograph a portion of the female body? Or is the model reaching for something forbidden, perhaps? Is this a woman or a child? The rips in the stockings might even suggest a prostitute. It appears here that literature is used mostly as a prop, although we might also be tempted to infer a metaphoric meaning from the use of books. They quite literally elevate the body in the same way that they also elevate the mind.  

This idea of literature as a means by which to achieve higher intelligence can be seen throughout the exhibition, especially thanks to a series of cards. Here, individuals are represented holding books, in front of their bookcases, or next to piles of hefty books, using said texts to signify both social and intellectual status. Such examples challenge the notion of books in art as simple aesthetic objects, highlighting their financial, social and intellectual significance.  

The exhibition also examines the philosophical nature of pictures of books in general. When a book is photographed, is it not to some extent an attempt to photograph the author himself? Hommage à Émile Zola is in fact a triple portrait of the writer. The first two elements are obvious, as they contain the face of Zola himself. The books are slightly more enigmatic, yet very clear nonetheless.

 E. Zola, Hommage à Émile Zola. Médaille avec livres, fleurs et portrait de Zola enfant. Circa 1900. Silver print on cardboard. ©Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Donated by the Kodak-Pathé Foundation, 1983. © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN- Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt.

The duality of the work is particularly striking. On the one hand, as a vanitas or post-mortem hommage, the rose may symbolise death, and the face of Zola the classical image of the skull. On the other hand, are books not a means of reaching immortality? If they do indeed represent their creators as objects, as implied by this photograph, then as long as they exist, so do their authors. 

Ultimately, “La photographie se livre” allowed me to contemplate the aesthetic value of books as works of art inside another work of art. No matter if they appear as decoration, or as a means to signify intellect or the importance of a particular literary figure, they always create a sense of mystery.  

On a lighter note, I would like to conclude this review with a humorous, yet nevertheless powerful image.  

Frénet, J. Garçonnet tenant la pose sous le soleil. Circa 1855. Salted paper print. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

J.Frénet, Garçonnet tenant la pose sous le soleil. Circa 1855. Salted paper print. ©Musée d’Orsay, Paris. © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

I couldn’t help but wonder why this little boy, the son of the artist, looked so upset. Is it because he is having a difficult time reading, or is it because his father was taking too long with the camera? We may never know!

Clémence Varène, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones