Racist Anti-Slavery Fresco Petitioned for Removal from the National Assembly Hall of France
France as a rule does not recognize racial differences. The country’s concept of equality for all citizens regardless of color, is evidenced by the fact that the French government and its legislators, operate under the principle of “absolute equality,” without requiring statistical data on ethnicity or race when formulating policies.
In fact, the very word “race,” which is generally perceived as a word largely associated with Nazi Germany, has been struck out of the French constitution.
Unfortunately though, an alfresco displayed in one of the panels in the building that houses France’s National Assembly had escaped attention as having artistic tones of racism. Although installed 28 years ago as part of a series of murals painted by French artist Hervé Di Rosa to depict French history, the “anti-slavery” fresco in particular is now the subject of an ongoing petition for removal and replacement.
Many visitors who find themselves passing through the halls of the National Assembly find Di Rosa’s caricature depiction of a black person humiliating and debasing.
Di Rosa painted prominent faces of two black males, both with bulging eyes, seemingly carnivorous set of teeth framed by oversized bright red lips, whilst grinning from ear to ear; to suggest that they were happy with the abolition of slavery in France.
A Campaign Calling for the Removal and Replacement of the Anti-Slavery Mural at the National Assembly Hall
One such person who found the images offensive is French filmmaker and scholar Mame-Fatou Niang.
Ms. Niang who is also an associate professor of French Studies at the Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh, had her first encounter with the anti-slavery fresco in March last year. She was invited to grace the screening of her documentary on African-French women, “Mariannes Noires,” at the National Assembly Hall.
Mame-Fatou Niang who is of African descent herself said the sight of the anti-slavery fresco had “gripped her guts.” Her initial reaction was of shock, recalling that her first thoughts were
“I’m a French black person.” This mural tells me that this is how my country sees me.”
She found the image largely resembling “Sambo” of the Banania commercial ads and of the African natives in “Tintin in the Congo.” Ms. Naing considers it dehumanising and an insult to the millions of victims of slavery, and all their descendants as well,
Yet the idea to call for its removal came when she received a tweet from an African-French school girl, who felt embarrassment, pain and at the same time anger in seeing the fresco, while hearing laughter from other school children brought over to visit the National Assembly.
Together with French novelist Julien Suaudeau, Mame-Fatou Niang, put forward a petition for the removal of Di Rosa’s anti-slavery fresco at the hall outside of the National Assembly auditorium. Although currently a subject of debate, the petition gained as many as 2,500 signatories when it was first launched in April 2019.