Monday, 19 January 2015

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité : An Artistic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Killings

by Brandon Choi

As a half-French seventeen year-old who intends to work in the arts industry, the Charlie Hebdo attacks were frightening. I had never really thought that an illustration could trigger so much drama. I know that artists, illustrators, photographers and even myself like to produce work which stimulate thoughts, opinions, conversations and inspiration - but not provoke murder. So, like the rest of the French and many others across the globe, I picked up my pen to show support.

I am no illustrator; personally, I prefer doing expressive paintings and making sculptures, but I decided I had to produce an illustration in response. This piece of work is the result of several French class discussions and the exchanging of ideas with Nat, Harrison, Siena and Mr Crenel.

Although I agree that "a picture paints a thousand words", I feel the need to elucidate some of the ideas behind this illustration, as most of the motifs come from French culture. It portrays two gunmen (Islam extremists) shooting at a duck (Charlie Hebdo) as a Superwoman-like figure (Marianne) defends it.

The Superwoman-like figure holding a pen with a waving French tricoleur is Marianne. She is a national symbol of the French Republic. Marianne is featured in an iconic painting by Eugène Delacroix, La Liberté guidant le people (1830) or “Liberty Leading the People” (see below) where she is depicted leading the French people over the fallen of the 1830 July Revolution. In my illustration, Marianne is shielding Charlie Hebdo; my representation of how the French public have come together and reacted to the attacks. You will notice Marianne is also wearing a Phrygian cap or "bonnet rouge" - this is the national emblem of France. Once again, it symbolises freedom and the pursuit of liberty.

Finally, the words being written by the pen Marianne is using as her weapon, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, equality, fraternity), are the French national motto, something the murderers have entirely contradicted. 

By targeting liberty they have touched all three principles, in the same way that knocking down the central pin could eliminate the remaining nine in ten-pin bowling with one swift movement. However around 4 million French rallied for unity last Sunday and they seemed stronger than ever, defending the right to have freedom of speech. Personally, these three words are important - I think they should be values for the world to uphold. Whilst I may not agree with certain Charlie Hebdo illustrations, freedom of expression and the right to publish are integral in achieving liberty, equality and fraternity.


La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugene Delacroix (1830)

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