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French mayor ‘evicts’ first black Marianne statue

Photo: AFP | A black Marianne has adorned city hall in Frémainville, France since 1999.

The small town of Frémainville is one of the few in France where a black-skinned Marianne statue adorns city hall. But the city’s new mayor is replacing the minority Marianne, claiming she does not represent the French republic.

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Mayor Marcel Allègre, who won local elections in March, has removed the city’s emblematic black Marianne from the main hall where civil marriages are performed, and has placed an order for a new statue.

“That black sculpture was a Marianne of liberty, but not a Marianne of the French Republic. She undoubtedly represented something, but not the French Republic,” Allègre, who has no party affiliation, told Le Parisien daily.

Marianne is a personification of liberty and democracy and is one of the national symbols of France. Usually depicted as a young, white woman wearing a Phrygian - or brimless, conical - cap, she is a familiar site in public buildings in France, as well as on postage stamps and government stationary.

The most well-known Marianne is the central subject of French painter’s Eugène Delacroix masterpiece “Liberty Leading the People”.

La Liberté guidant le peuple, Eugène Delacroix, 1830.
La Liberté guidant le peuple, Eugène Delacroix, 1830.

Frémainville, a small town 50km northwest of Paris, became the first in France to boast a black Marianne in 1999. Since then, other black Marianne’s have been unveiled in other French cities.

“I don’t see any reason why the French Republic would not be black,” Maurice Maillet, who was the town’s mayor for 25 years before losing last year’s poll to Allègre, said in reaction to his successor’s decision. “Just look at France’s national football team”.

Is France white?

The Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN), one of France’s leading minority rights groups, on Monday condemned the move to evict Frémainville’s black Marianne from its usual location.

“Either we live in a white and racial Republic, and Marcel Allègre is right, or we live in a diverse Republic, and the mayor of Frémainville is wrong,” CRAN spokeswoman Thiaba Bruni said in a statement.

The group added that it had filed a legal complaint to have Allègre sanctioned.
While Marianne is commonly recognized as one of France’s national symbols, she is not an official one, and there is no legislation dictating what her effigy must look like.

French actresses Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, as well as supermodel Laetitia Casta, have in the past inspired Marianne busts. The most recent Marianne postage stamp was in part inspired by a member of the Femen activist group, according to its artist.

The CRAN said it was urging France’s National Association of Mayors to pick “black, Arab or Asian woman” to serve as the model for the next official Marianne bust.

Breaking with tradition, a black Marianne was first unveiled in the town of Frémainville, France in 1999.
Breaking with tradition, a black Marianne was first unveiled in the town of Frémainville, France in 1999.

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