Paris is in a state of shock after the terrorist attacks that took place on 13 November. The attacks, which targeted the French capital’s vibrant soul (cafés, restaurants, stadium, and concert venue) and, according to the latest results, caused 130 deaths, were followed by a wave of reactions. Artists, institutions and fairs had to come to terms with the painful aftermath. This is how the art world looked a few hours after the events.
A state of emergency was decreed following the attack and Paris’ public museums (including the Louvre, Musée d’Art Moderne, Grand Palais, etc.) and private institutions (e.g. the Pinacothèque, among others) were closed until Monday 16 November.
Two art fairs were also on in Paris last weekend. Paris Photo, which was on at the Grand Palais, wrapped up early, on 14 November. The organizers announced the news in a press release and expressed their “sympathy for the suffering of the families of the victims of the attacks”. Gallerist Nathalie Obadia applauded the decision in an interview with Figaro newspaper the morning after the tragedy. “It is a wise and responsible decision to ensure the safety of everyone”, she said. “In addition to last night’s massacre, to France’s grief as she awakens in a state of shock this morning, it should be noted that there is also a second target, that of our culture and our economic activity. As well as the deaths it has instilled a mental curfew.”
Paris Tableau in Palais Brongniart on the Place de la Bourse also closed on 14 and 15 November.
Many were the artists who expressed on paper their reaction to the painful event. Jean Jullien’s creation quickly came to symbolize the weekend. His black brushstrokes unite the Eiffel Tower and the universal symbol for peace. The image struck a chord with people all over the world and shared by millions on social media during the night of Friday to Saturday. The artist, who lives in London, told CNN that his gesture was “spontaneous”, drawn as a response to his heartfelt reaction as he listened to the news on the radio.
Numerous other illustrators have also felt a need to express their reaction to the deadly attacks through their art, much like after the January attacks. Comic book author and director Joann Sfar posted a series of strips narrating his love of the Parisian lifestyle and paying homage to the French capital.
Both in France and abroad, artists like Steve Benson, Benjamin Schwartz, André Saraiva and Coco (Charlie Hebdo) also penned their reactions.
Valérie Duponchelle, a journalist who writes about art for Figaro interviewed several artists after the attacks. She talked to Franco-Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi, whose works address “Islam and freedom of expression”. “Last night, when I was looking at the picture, I thought that the abomination was there, before us, that we are part of a world that we cannot see”, he said. “Yesterday’s attacks struck the performing arts and culture and created, just beside the concerts, football matches, restaurants and bars full of young people, a spectacle of unbelievable violence and barbarism.”
Franco-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed, who was in Los Angeles on the night of the tragedy, reacted strongly. “I already know these madmen ready for carnage and suicide”, he explained. “I have already fled them. I know what they are like and how they are recruited. Its operation – implacable and very methodical – reminds me of Hitler youth. They are exploiting young people’s universal need for utopia and their profound malaise.” The artist had to flee from Algeria after the assassination of the director of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he was studying.
Museums have been re-opening gradually since Monday. Admittedly, the atmosphere is tense and security is at a maximum, but there is a desire to show the world the virtues of art in the face of a world that increasingly defies belief. The artists themselves have, more than ever, a raging desire to speak to the world.