"Wall of Love" Commemorates Paris Attacks

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Monday, April 6, 2020
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In an effort to heal their neighborhood, residents of the 10th Arrondissement invited street and graffiti artists to paint on a blocklong wall near two cafes that were attacked. Below are some of the artworks and the stories behind them."I was really afraid, and I felt all alone," Diana Kami, an artist who lives in the 10th Arrondissement with her daughter, said of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, many in her neighborhood. The next Monday, after dropping her daughter at school, she was overwhelmed by a desire to make art. Almost instinctively, she said, she began to paint on a wall along rue Alibert that is often used as a canvas for local street artists – and is just steps from Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, two cafes targeted in the attacks.




Community Involvement:

Several mothers from her daughter's school, just on the other side of the wall, took notice of Ms. Kami's work and requested permission from the local government to paint the entire wall. "We wanted to do something," said one of them, Gaelle Giffard, who crowdfunded 500 euros from the neighborhood to cover the cost of paint.



The result is "Dessine-Moi un Bouquet," a communitywide initiative that invited street and graffiti artists, as well as local residents and children, to cover the wall with images in response to the attacks. One mother told Ms. Kami that the wall, nicknamed Le Mur de l'Amour, or wall of love, has had a calming effect so that she is no longer afraid to walk in the street. An elderly man told Ms. Kami that simply watching her paint helped him find peace.



For her own contribution, Ms. Kami painted a forest of trees, their branches outstretched. "In nature, the hunter protects himself in the forest," she said, "and the tree is life. It's to protect the neighborhood."



"Children of France" Painting by Ernesto Novo


Mr. Novo, 51, a longtime resident of the area, painted "Radiant Mother," an image meant to give hope to survivors and mend "the shock and trauma of that night." He also sought to send a message that "we are all children of France — secular and ethnically diverse France."  Through his portrayal of historical and culture figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Nina Simone and Bruce Lee, Mr. Novo constructs a message of unity in times of uncertainty and prejudice. He uses live painting as a tool to communicate with bystanders, sometimes provoking reactions that, he says, "are not always necessarily positive."  Mr. Novo often interrupts his work to discuss his past as the son of Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants and what led him to become an artist. He sometimes paints for young people in the banlieues, or ethnically diverse inner suburbs. "The things they go through, I went through, too," he said.


"Echoes of Delacroix" Painting by Jo Di Bona


A self-described "pop graffiti" artist from the Parisian suburb of Villeparisis, Mr. Di Bona felt that it was important for him to paint the mur de l'amour, even though he knew it would be a painful experience. For the wall, Mr. Di Bona, 40, adapted Eugène Delacroix's 1830 painting "Liberty Leading the People." The figures in his painting are almost faceless, the details of their expressions intentionally obscured so that the image could "represent all French people." "From start to finish, I was thinking about all the people who died just near here," Mr. Di Bona said. Bishopparigo, a street artist and friend, "was near me, but we didn't speak to each other," he said. "All day we were painting and concentrating."



"A Concrete Jungle" Painting by Mosko


Gérard Laux, a 62-year-old retired printing worker who paints under the name Mosko, said he had avoided referencing the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015 in his art, worried that he would be perceived as seeking to profit from cultural trauma. But on rue Alibert, he said, "I see this wall with the kids' drawings, full of life" and realized that his own paintings of bright, delicately detailed animals seemed to make sense beside the joyfully uninhibited designs of children. "The expression of my animals is really quite soft," he said. "It's not aggressive, so I think it's effective on the wall." Mosko chooses to paint by daylight, meeting people in the street as he works. In this way street art has the power to open people up to one another, he added, and "in a really tragic period, we need this."



"Felix, Sonic and Betty Boop" Painting by Sara Chelou


For Sara Chelou, painting on the wall was a way to reclaim a part of Paris that she had always perceived as hers. "This is my wall, my place, my neighborhood," the 47-year-old artist said. Ms. Chelou explores themes of equality, resistance and expulsion in her work, a combination of politics and pop that can be deceivingly whimsical. On Le Mur de l'Amour, she used candy-colored tones to recreate iconic characters from American pop culture, like Felix the Cat, Sonic the Hedgehog and Betty Boop. The images are "nice, positive, happy," she said, but quickly adds that Sonic and Felix are "vandals" themselves, while Betty Boop represents a "happy, simple way of life" that has become deeply politicized. Further down the wall, she painted a startling beautiful outline of a young girl's face beside an image of a man playing the violin, symbolizing the Roma, who face ostracism throughout Europe. The attacks changed Ms. Chelou's approach to art. "I used to make street art for political reasons, and suddenly I've seen the importance of street art to make memories," she said. "It's like putting flowers in front of a place, but many people can interact with it."



"There Are No Symbols" Painting by Daco


Damien Collignon, a 35-year-old graphic designer and video producer who uses the name Daco when he paints, created an indeterminate creature using mixed media – what he called a "majestic, fearless, docile animal" – to express a sense of both permanence and joy. "The colors only seemed appropriate for the occasion," he said of the reddish hues used to finish his piece, adding that they were not meant to evoke bleeding or a wounded animal. "I've painted animals for a long time," he said, "it's a way of making chimeras where you'd least expect them." The artist, who has been invited to paint in other European cities, cautioned against reading too much into the piece: "There are no symbols," he said, "but just the will to participate and show that I am a partisan of people's suffering, and artists, just like everyone else, have to show support in whatever way they see fit."


"Be Yourself" Painting by Flo


Flo, whose full name is Florent Dechartres, was born in northern Paris and lives two streets away from rue Alibert, said he took inspiration from the local children who had often doodled on the wall. "I felt the right thing to do was to decorate and enhance the naïve and spontaneous message in the children's work, and to express appreciation for them doing so," said the 39-year-old artist, who is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, "so I decided to use the same tone, rather than paint something of its own, for the sake of continuity." He painted a ladybug and then, the suggestion of two children he met at the wall, added silhouettes of cyclists, runners and dancers who could be seen as "n'importe qui," or anyone at all. To evoke the innocence of children, he wrote "sois toi-meme, soit tu m'aimes," two nearly homophonic French phrases that mean "be yourself" and "either you love me," with intentional spelling mistakes.



"A Universal Language" Painting by Fusible


Fusible, the 26-year-old artist who moved to mainland France from Guadeloupe in 2006, decided to paint the word "freedom" because of what it represents in the face of the attacks. "There is nothing more important than feeling free, and it's a shame not everyone in the world can feel that way," said the artist, who did not want his real name used. The choice of English, Fusible said, was a universalist one; the red, white and blue colors were not a conscious reference to either the French or American flags. "Art, and when necessary, street art, is still a universal language," he added. "It's the best way to overcome borders, whether mental, moral or ideological." Nonetheless, he said, "The situation is only worsening. The Charlie Hebdo attacks wounded freedom of expression, while Nov. 13 the freedom to simply live."



"An Idea of Hope" Painting by BishoPParigo


"As an illustrator, I express myself best through design, and not through words," the 34-year-old artist said, although he was trained as a typographer. His work on Le Mur de l'Amour, a hybrid of a fish and a bird with open wings — or arms — and closed eyes, surrounded by hearts and painted in delicate hues of red and pink, reflects his desire to transmit hope. The artist's 6-year-old daughter helped him paint his work at the wall, and it was through collaborating with her that he understood it would be paramount to paint something with a soothing effect, something that, through the closed eyes and "satisfied and peaceful" demeanor, could return a "sense of trust" to a wounded city and a mourning neighborhood.



"French Above All Else" Painting by RESone


To mourn the death of a colleague's relative in the assault and hostage-taking at the Bataclan concert hall on Nov. 13, RESone painted an image of a girl with her eyes closed as "a sign of appeasement, of calm." The 30-year-old artist, who did not want his real name used, visited the wall several times afterward. Wanting to express solidarity toward Muslim friends but not knowing Arabic, he asked a veiled mother whose son was playing on the street for a suggestion. The resulting words he painted on the wall read "love and unity," albeit with a misplaced accent. "It saddens me to see that we're only able to come together through art like this only when events are truly tragic," said RESone, who is Antillean by birth but "French above all else."


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