PARIS — Wearing a long, white tunic with the names of two African ethnic groups written on it, the defendant stepped forward to the bar, took a breath, and launched into a plea.
“No one has sought to find out what harm has been done to Africa,” said the defendant, Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congo-born 41-year-old activist and spokesman for a Pan-African movement that denounces colonialism and cultural expropriation.
Mr. Diyabanza, along with four associates, stood accused of attempting to steal a 19th-century African funeral pole from the Quai Branly Museum in Paris in mid-June, as part of an action to protest colonial-era cultural theft and seek reparations.
But it was Wednesday’s emotionally charged trial that gave real resonance to Mr. Diyabanza’s struggle, as a symbolic defendant was called to the stand: France, and its colonial track record.
The presiding judge in charge of the case acknowledged the two trials: One, judging the group, four men and a woman, on a charge of attempted theft for which they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of about $173,000.
“And another trial, that of the history of Europe, of France with Africa, the trial of colonialism, the trial of the misappropriation of the cultural heritage of nations,” the judge told the court, adding that such was a “citizen’s trial, not a judicial one.”
The political and historical ramifications were hard to avoid.
France’s vast trove of African heritage — it is estimated that some 90,000 sub-Saharan African cultural objects are held in French museums — was largely acquired under colonial times, and many of these artworks were looted or acquired under dubious circumstances. That has put France at the center of a debate on the restitution of colonial-era holdings to their countries of origin.
Unlike in Germany, where this debate has been welcomed by both the government and museums, France has struggled to offer a consistent response, just as the country is facing a difficult reckoning with its past.
“Our act aimed to erase the acts of indignity and disrespect of those who plundered our homes,” Mr. Diyabanza said.
The restitution debate came to a head in France when President Emmanuel Macron promised in 2017 to give back much of Africa’s heritage held by French museums. He later commissioned a report that identified about two-thirds of the 70,000 objects at the Quai Branly Museum as qualifying for restitution.
But in the two years following the report, only 27 restitutions have been announced and only one object, a traditional sword, has been returned — to Senegal, in November 2019. The remaining 26 treasures that were designated for restitution, to Benin, are still in the Quai Branly Museum.
And the bill supporting these exceptional, or case-by-case, restitutions has yet to be voted on.
Calvin Job, the lawyer for three of the defendants, said in court that the bill, by focusing on exceptional rather than regular restitutions, reflected “a desire not to settle the issue.”
“We should enshrine the principle of restitution in the code of law,” Mr. Job said.
Given what they perceive as hurdles, activists from Mr. Diyabanza’s Pan-African movement have staged operations similar to that in Paris at African art museums in the Southern French city of Marseille and in Berg en Dal, in the Netherlands.
At times, these actions have epitomized growing identity-related claims, coming from French citizens of African descent living in a country where a racial awakening has started to take place in recent months.
“We have young people who have an identity problem,” Mr. Job said in an interview, “who, faced with a lack of action, a lack of political will, have found it legitimate to do the work that others don’t.”
Speaking to the judge, Julie Djaka, a 34-year-old defendant who grew up in a Congolese family, said: “For you, these are works. For us, these are entities, ritual objects that maintained the order at home, in our villages in Africa, that enabled us to do justice.”
Marie-Cécile Zinsou, the president of the Zinsou Art Foundation in Benin and the daughter of a former prime minister of Benin, said that, although she did not share the activists’ methods, she understands “why they exist.” “We cannot be ignored and looked upon down all the time,” she said.
“In France, there’s a post-colonial view on the African continent,” Ms. Zinsou added, saying that some prominent French cultural figures still doubted that African countries could preserve artworks.
Such grievances on France’s post-colonial legacy were in full play on Wednesday at the trial as a small crowd of about 50 people, most Pan-African movement activists, were barred from entering the courtroom by the police because of concerns about the coronavirus and because some feared that their presence could disrupt the trial.
Activists shouted “band of thieves” and “slavers” at the police officers cordoning off the entrance to the courtroom and they chanted, “Give us back our artwork!”
Prosecutors on Wednesday asked that a fine of 1,000 euros, or about $1,200, be levied against Mr. Diyabanza and a suspended €500 fine be levied against his associates. A verdict is expected on Oct. 14.
Activists in front of the courtroom on Wednesday welcomed the recommended sentences, which they found modest, as a collective victory.
“We all are defendants here; all of us should normally be at the stand today,” said Laetitia Babin, a 45-year-old social worker born in Congo, who had arrived from Belgium in the morning to attend the trial.
“It’s not up to them to decide how artworks are returned to us, it’s up to us,” she said.
Saving the saints: St. Ninian's restoration reveals art history in Antigonish – CBC.ca
Michelle Gallinger spends more than nine hours a day pressed against the grand walls of St. Ninian’s Cathedral.
She’s slowly revealing a piece of Canadian history that’s been hidden for decades.
Under the painted walls and columns of the Antigonish, N.S., church, is an extraordinary mural by Quebec painter Ozias Leduc.
Gallinger, a fine arts conservator based in Dartmouth, considers him the Michelangelo of Canada.
“It’s pretty exciting. You get to have your hands on somebody’s painting who nobody has seen in its entirety since 1937,” said Gallinger.
Leduc has been recognized by the federal government as a national historic person, a designation given to people who’ve made unique and enduring contributions to Canada’s history.
He painted 150 churches, mostly in his home province. Gallinger said St. Ninian’s is the only one in Eastern Canada.
Leduc and his team painted the church in 1902, 26 years after the cathedral opened.
His work covered the entire interior from floor to ceiling. But in 1937, the cathedral needed an update and the first layer of paint was added, covering up some of the murals.
Over the years, as many as seven layers of paint covered up the masterpiece, leaving only some of the saints exposed. They became known as the “floating saints.”
The rose medallions on the ceiling were filled in. They’re now blue circles, but their intricate designs can be seen peeking through the layers.
Most people have no idea what’s actually on St. Ninian’s walls.
“The columns are actually painted marble,” said Gallinger. “On the outside aisles, the Stations of the Cross are all painted by Ozias Leduc and there are stencils that go up the wall.”
It’s Gallinger’s job to bring that work back to life, and she’s working against the clock to save Leduc’s masterpiece.
A few years ago, there was a steam leak inside the cathedral that travelled up the columns.
“That actually caused the paint and all the subsequent layers to flake off or come forward,” said Gallinger. Those curling pieces of paint are taking the original mural with them.
In 2012, the church decided to start a campaign to save the murals. It started fundraising and every time donations total $80,000, Gallinger comes in with her team to save two saints.
In all, it’s expected the work will cost more than half a million dollars.
“The best part of it is when you get to take the four layers of artist paint off the faces. They no longer look dead or tired — they come alive,” said Gallinger.
In this phase of the project, Gallinger and two of her colleagues have been tasked with revealing two saints, Matthias and Peter, as well as two angels that have been completely covered since 1957.
It’s incredibly slow, detailed work that is done by hand.
“We actually have to glue it all back down using steam irons and adhesive and hot irons,” Gallinger said of the peeling paint.
“Then we have to use what’s called a poultice, which is basically a wad of cotton with a solvent on it, to remove the top layers down to the original layer.”
Once the layers are removed, she can see the original brushstrokes and paint colours.
“Right now, the two angels are just standing on clouds and it’s just glorious to see them,” she said.
But the damage of time is clear: some parts of the walls have peeled in large chunks, leaving behind blank white sections. That’s where Gallinger and her team are trying to fill in the blanks with their own paint.
“We will put a fine art varnish on it,” she explained. “They could always take our overpaint off without ever affecting the original Leduc.”
Rev. Donald MacGillivray, rector of St. Ninian’s, has been watching the church walls transform.
“Beauty is important,” he said. “The artwork here was made beautiful, and to have it restored brings beauty back into the building.”
He said it is incredible that people have been willing to donate to the project over the years. Every dollar has been an anonymous contribution.
“People come up to me and say, ‘I want to give money to help with this, but I don’t want my name to be known.'”
The church is filled with posters showing old photos that give hints of what’s hidden on the walls, and explaining the work that needs to go into each of the saints.
When this phase finishes up next week, St. Ninian’s still has seven saints to save.
MacGillivray’s goal is to have the money raised in the next two or three years.
And while he waits to bring Gallinger’s team back to Antigonish, MacGillivray takes the time to appreciate the section that they have almost completely transformed.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
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GRT public art display misused to display hate symbol in Cambridge – KitchenerToday.com
A quick response from the region’s transit provider after a hate symbol was briefly seen on Sunday on the Cambridge Centre Mall transit terminal’s public art display.
Peter Zinck is the Director of Transit Services for the Region of Waterloo – speaking with 570 NEWS, he said that the station’s pinboard had been manipulated to show a swastika and that the behaviour was promptly addressed by GRT staff in under an hour.
“We’ve turned the matter over to police, who will investigate. We will be fully supporting their investigation in any way that GRT can.”
Zinck said that the report came through from a media service on Sunday morning around 9:00 a.m. Staff members were sent to the Cambridge Centre station to re-arrange the board before forwarding the issue to regional police. He said that Grand River Transit places a high priority on these kinds of issues – whether it’s a public art display or a reported piece of graffiti.
When asked about problematic behaviour with the pin-board display and whether a decision would be considered to remove it, Zinck said that this is the first reported circumstance of the public art piece being misused in this way.
“Hopefully this is just a one-off, and that people recognize this is there for public art and not for use of hate symbols.”
Zinck said that Grand River Transit remains committed to providing a safe environment for all riders and that they condemn symbols of hate or racial intolerance without reservation.
He added that if members of the public see anything like this on transit, they can report the behaviour on GRT’s website or through their call centre.
“… it’s just not acceptable on our services. We’ll deal with the matter quickly, and follow-up through the Waterloo Regional Police Services to ensure it’s investigated.”
Squamish Art Walk on tap – Squamish Chief
In a year where events of all types have been wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s comforting that a couple of cornerstones will be returning, albeit in a different form.
The Squamish Arts Council’s annual Art Walk is set to run from Nov. 1 to 28, with some pandemic adaptations, of course.
Executive director Amy Liebenberg said that while the number of participating artists, at roughly 25, is consistent with past years, there are understandably fewer hosting venues in 2020.
“They’re either not open or not interested in encouraging excess clientele, especially if they’re just coming to look and not necessarily coming to patronize the business,” she said.
The venues taking part this year as Zephyr Café, Saha Eatery, Squamish Academy of Music, Northyards Cider, the Squamish Public Library, The Ledge Community Coffee House, Andy Anissimoff Gallery and Britannia Mine Museum.
While the event’s art-viewing element is similar to years past, the more radical change has to do with studio tours and other artist interaction, as many of the studios are small and not suited to welcoming the public for a peek behind the curtain at this time.
Instead, artists will share “the tools they use, the processes they use and how their wonderful, creative imaginations transform ordinary materials into the magic you see all around,” Liebenberg said. The tours will be available on Instagram by searching the hashtag #squamishartist.
“Enjoy the behind-the-scenes tours and enjoy what these incredible artists are making,” she said.
As well, the Anonymous Art Show will be back for a second go-around.
“We have some of the most amazing artists I’ve ever known who live and work in Squamish and so it’s going to be really fun to have them back again for some Anonymous Art Show pieces,” she said.
Artists will submit their pieces by early November, while the show is set for Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.
“You hope to be the first in line to grab a piece that most delights you,” she said.
Introducing our Zephyr Cafe location of collaborative art work that will be displayed for our Art Walk program launching…
In terms of participants, Liebenberg said there are always a few surprises, as last year, there were several who hadn’t painted in many years if ever before, while there were some who work in a different medium, such as textiles, trying their hands at something new.
Liebenberg said that with many artists having had tough times this year, they would appreciate a purchase or, at the very least, a message of support for a job well done.
“Our creative community deserves all of our support and a big round of applause for continuing to do some pretty heavy emotional lifting on behalf of the community,” she said.
For more, visit squamishartscouncil.com.
Foyer Gallery set for fundraiser
One of the Art Walk participants, Foyer Gallery at the Squamish Public Library, will hold a fundraising event of its own in November.
The gallery was unable to host its traditional events, a May gala with an exhibit in the lead-up, where for a $50 sponsorship, patrons can take part in a “raffle for art” event.
This year, supporters are encouraged to take part in a pay-what-you-can campaign of sponsorship. Each supporter will be entered into a random draw for one of six pieces of artwork by a local artist or a one-on-one virtual art lesson from curator and painting instructor Toby Jaxon. To donate, head to squamishlibrary.ca.
“We formatted it and decided that we’d take a stab at getting some donations before 2020 ends,” she said with a chuckle.
Among the artists donating pieces are three volunteers, also known as the “hanging crew” for their work installing new exhibits monthly or, now during COVID, every six weeks: 20-plus-year veteran Fran Solar, 13-year helper Linda Wagner and, in her third year, relative newbie Karen Yaremkewich.
The three have not only diverse mediums, with Wagner being an oil painter, Yaremkewich being a fabric artist and Solar working with metal, but they also have distinct skills when installing the shows.
“Fran is a master at creating interesting vignettes. We’ve got these three beautiful display cases, so that’s her specialty. Linda, she’s super gifted at figuring out where all the wall art should go and coordinating the pieces based on size and style and colours. Karen, she’s really proactive at moving the inventory around, getting up on the ladder—and it doesn’t hurt that she’s super tall,” Jaxon said.
Jaxon added that she’s also been creating virtual versions of the galleries so visitors can decide if there’s a piece they’d like to see more closely or purchase before arriving, especially given the library’s limited hours.
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