tribune Why France must save the portrait of Zaga Christ


Here is their platform: “An exceptional portrait of Zaga Christ, painted around 1700, will go on public sale on Saturday, January 21, 2023 at the Hôtel Drouot. In the world of art, and among those concerned about the memory of the African diaspora, it is an event. It is a rare copy of a medallion executed in 1635 in Turin by a painter, Giovanna Garzoni, a friend of the model. The medallion was acquired in 2021 by the Alien Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College. In the United States, in Ohio.

This beautiful watercolor and gouache on laid paper depicts an elegant young African, dressed as a man of quality. Prince of Ethiopia, he had come to Paris to seek the support of the King of France to recover a throne he said had been usurped. Their adventures have hit the headlines. Denigrated by the jealous, but protected by Richelieu, he died in Rueil in 1638 and today rests in this church, probably unbeknownst to the people of Rueil. But like other unifying heroes, directly or indirectly from Africa, Zaga Christ does not seem to interest the French too much. In any case, not the French who decide.

However, I devoted a chapter to it in a book published seven years ago. And I’m not the only one. The same goes for unifying figures such as Moret’s “Mauresse”, General Dumas, the Chevalier de Saint-George, Fortunée Hamelin, Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Félix Éboué, Gaston Monnerville, and so many others, who nevertheless form part of French history . Despite the will publicly expressed in the Senate in June 2020 by the Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, and the unanimous vote of the Council of Paris in February 2021, we are still waiting for the funds promised by the State to replace, in the capital , the statue of General Dumas, destroyed by the collaborators in 1943.

As for the Knight of Saint-George, it had to be Hollywood – in this case the Disney Searchlight studios – who committed the means of a high-quality production to relate the life of this hero but so French. The world premiere is scheduled for early April 2023. It is surprising that our country, whose film system is largely based on the state, had no initiative or participation in this project and that, as consequently, it was developed and shot entirely abroad. .

This systematically miserable attitude that maintains ignorance obviously has the advantage of increasing prejudice

Even recently, Euzhan Palcy, an eminent Martinican filmmaker, was awarded in Paris by the SACD without the presence of any official and it was again Hollywood that consecrated her by awarding her an Oscar for her entire career. Which, of course, still prompted some tweets from people in the know. A posteriori Ignorance of ill-advised public authorities or deliberate will? Everything happens as if the remarkable and unifying individuals of the African diaspora who counted or still count in France were deliberately left out, as if we wanted to show that what comes from Africa or the former overseas slave colonies -mer is always negative and a source of problems.

This systematically miserable attitude that maintains ignorance obviously has the advantage of increasing prejudice. We know the results. Apart from being unfair to our overseas territories, and humiliating in our relations with other Western countries who know perfectly well how to deal with these problems, entrust the files to the right people and establish or use the right institutions, this furtive stance is counterproductive as for the former colonies who may see it as a touch of arrogance, little in relation to the current situation of France in the world, and not only in Africa.

It had to be a very detailed investigation of the News from New York which reveals, in the spring of 2022, how France had behaved, some twenty years before, to avoid facing its responsibilities with respect to the Republic of Haiti and to destabilize a little more a former colony exploited for a long time time in slavery, then rescued. For twenty years I have been calling for the creation of a museum, in Paris, to promote the unifying heroes and heroines who have counted in our history, but who have been discriminated against by prejudice.

Abandoned public buildings abound. Everyone knows very well what I’m talking about, as interesting exhibitions, such as now The black model, are sometimes devoted to these subjects, thanks to the brave initiatives of a few curators, crowned by success. But it is likely that, due to a lack of political will, at a time when the bust of Aimé Césaire is smeared with white paint in Sarcelles, without anyone saying a word, the beautiful portrait of Crist Zaga, rather than being n one of the first pieces of a new Parisian museum that, however, would be of public utility and would do honor to the country of human rights, comes discreetly to enrich, as usual, the collections of a foreign museum. »

Source : Le JDD

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