« Voices and Images from the Banlieue / Voix et Images de la Banlieue »
Bilingual art book edited by Juliet Carpenter and Christina Horvath
Banlieue Network Publishers.
128 p., with black and white and color images and unedited texts by Mamadou Mahmoud N’Dongo and Fabienne Kanor, as well as 18 other contributors
The French ‘banlieues’, or suburbs, are rarely considered as a site of cultural diversity and a hub of creativity. More commonly they are associated with stereotypical images of urban riots, isolation and segregation, often reinforced by media representations. In the summer of 2013, a group of international artists and scholars set out to question these clichés, immersing themselves in the life and environment of Greater Paris, in order to explore the banlieue’s creative energy and cross-cultural influences. This book is born from their experiences.
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The “banlieue” occupies a particular place in the imagination of French society today. Since the 1980s, it has been associated with urban riots, segregation and images of unemployment, school failure, delinquency, violence and immigration. As a place where many major social issues are concentrated, it is often seen as synonymous with negative stereotypes that impact on the lives of residents. These clichés are put forward in media and political discourses, reflecting certain fears and widening the gap between the banlieue and the rest of French society. Since the notorious “rodeos” in the Lyon suburb of Les Minguettes in 1981, new waves of violence were witnessed in the banlieues in 2005, 2007 and 2010, fuelled by police blunder, socio-economic tensions, architectural inadequacies and in inefficacity of urban policies. Today major urban renovation projects are beginning to reshape some of the housing and physical environments of the suburbs, while the Grand Paris project aims to improve transport links and infrastructure, addressing issues of isolation in the periphery.
It is this new-found optimism and the creative talent of the banlieue that we hoped to capture during the Summer School organised by Banlieue Network, and held in Seine-Saint-Denis (department 93) on the outskirts of Paris in July 2013. Our aim was to bring together a varied group of researchers, PhD students and artists for a series of debates, encounters, exchange, dialogue and creativity. We spent a week exploring the north-east suburbs of Paris: Saint-Denis, Drancy, Bondy, la Courneuve and Bobigny. We experienced the urban periphery through various media, including scholarly debates, film projections, conferences, public discussions on various themes and creative workshops, and through travelling along tram lines, taking suburban trains and walking between central Paris and the suburbs and from one community to another. We wanted to dissolve the distance between the city and its suburbs in public, political and media discourses, which often tend to group together the heterogeneous and varied landscapes, people and cultures of the neighbourhoods beyond the Périphérique.
This book seeks to showcase the art work produced during the Summer School by the participants and the resident artists who approached the banlieue in various ways. Writer FabienneKanor (Chapter 1) interviewed residents in Saint-Denis, gathering testimonies on their roots, identities and belonging. John Perivolaris and Edward Welch (Chapter 2) collected soundscapes along the tram line connecting Saint-Denis with Drancy and Bondy. Jean-Michel Delage (Chapter 3) led us on a photographic walk around the iconic football stadium built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Photographer Samuel NjaKwa and writer Mamadou Mahmoud N’Dongo worked in Drancy, one tracing World War II deportees and members of the resistance movement (Chapter 4), the other interviewing inhabitants about their experience of the city (Chapter 5). MishAminoff offered a scrapbook and photography workshop to groups of children in Drancy (Chapter 6), KalouKaba taught young residents in Bondy how to explore their environment using home-made pinhole cameras (Chapter 7). Equipped with sketch books, the Summer School participants walked along the Canal de l’Ourcq from central Paris to the music cultural centre Canal 93 in the suburb of Bobigny, tracing their path through drawing under the direction of artist Liza Dimbleby (Chapter 8). Bruno Levasseur (Chapter 9) led us on an early morning walk through the iconic Cité des 4000 while Sophie Tonneau (Chapter 10) ran theatre workshops with another group of children in Bondy around the themes of self/other. Dianne Regisford (Chapter 11) designed social sculpture enactment “One bowl” which allowed the participants to summarise their experience of the banlieue.
Guided by the artists, Summer School participants discovered key landmarks of Seine-Saint-Denis, such as the Stade de France, the cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis where French kings were buried, and the Jewish deportation memorial in Drancy. But we also witnessed the sites of everyday life such as train stations, markets, and fountains converted into swimming pools by local children. We photographed bridges, graffiti-covered walls, garden city areas, high-rise housing estates some of which have been condemned to demolition under current urban regeneration programmes and tried to express our impressions through photography (chapter 12).
Drawing on the creative outputs from the Summer School, this book seeks to communicate the ”banlieue experience” beyond its locality. Resulting from our immersion in the creative energy generated by the banlieue’s cross-cultural influences, the works reflect our individual perceptions of the urban periphery. We hope that the richness of the images and texts goes some way towards communicating the diversity of the urban periphery and the dynamic synergies between various art forms.