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È in gioco la libertà di creazione artistica, dice il CNC a Cannes


- CANNES 2024: Utilizzando un esempio specifico, la discussione ha ruotato attorno alle sfide di creare un'arte che non sia ostacolata dalla sensibilità moderna

È in gioco la libertà di creazione artistica, dice il CNC a Cannes
sx-dx: Sylvain Bourmeau, Tania de Montaigne e Bernard Stirn durante il panel (© Éric Bonté/CNC)

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At the Cannes Film Festival, the CNC organised a panel titled “La liberté de création à l'épreuve des sensibilités modernes” (lit. “Creative Freedom Put to the Test by Modern Sensitivities”). On the podium were Bernard Stirn, a French judge, who is honorary section president of the Conseil d'Etat as well as a permanent secretary of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. Stirn is an influential figure in France, but no less influential was the second speaker, French author, journalist and artist Tania de Montaigne. The moderation of the talk was assured by French journalist Sylvain Bourmeau from France Culture.

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Before de Montaigne started to relate a series of challenges she faced, and is still facing, concerning her work and society’s perception of it, Stirn was asked to give an overview of the legal situation in France when it comes to artistic creation. The question was whether there are limitations set out by the law on what artists are allowed to express, and how they express themselves. Stirn replied that freedom of artistic expression was enshrined in French legislation as early as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. All of the amendments and additions to the law from then on have mainly been a reaffirmation of it, and they only serve to respond to the new formats of art that have established themselves through the decades. So, in 1982, the French Constitution enacted an amendment declaring that all audiovisual communication and expression was free of constraint. Surprisingly, in 2016, an addition was made that declared that all artistic creations are free of constraint. In Stirn's opinion, this recent amendment is a symptom of the intense discussions revolving around the movement of “wokeness” in our society, the phenomenon of a radical reinterpretation of political correctness.

Apparently, Tom Hanks said that in today’s climate, he would not have taken on the iconic leading role in Philadelphia any more. After all, he is not homosexual. It's with this anecdote that journalist Bourmeau opened the panel. However, this did not shock de Montaigne. She explained what happened when her novel Noire (lit. “Black”) was first transformed into a cartoon and became part of a museum installation. It has, moreover, also been converted into a virtual-reality experience and is actually part of Cannes' VR competition this year.

After the success of the novel, the cartoon was also very well received. It got invited, among other places, to a festival in English-speaking Canada, explained de Montaigne. The illustrations were done by an illustrator of white skin colour, which confused the festival curator in question. In her opinion, it was not possible to maintain the book’s title as it was, as people of dark skin colour may have felt uncomfortable if they learned that a person of white skin colour had staked a claim to the title. de Montaigne, who is herself of dark skin colour, should have been aware of this problem herself, said the curator. She was asked to change the title but was not willing to.

For the author, this incident was only one of a series of similar happenings. For the exhibition she made related to her novel, she was asked to change the beginning of the book, which she had displayed on a wall. The museum curator had suggested a completely new sentence to her, one that would not have the potential to harm people with dark skin colour.

The author explained that dynamics such as these are a huge nuisance. People who take it upon themselves to be the “guardians of morality and order”, and to play the “language police”, are only reproducing racist notions and behaviours, even though they think they are explicitly acting against them. However, considering that you, yourself, know what a whole group of people – in this case people with dark skin colour – might find harmful, and speaking on behalf of them, is paternalistic. It's a way not to recognise people as individuals who are able to decide for themselves what they like, what they are angry about or what they want to fight for.

de Montaigne thinks – and was backed up by Stirn – that what we are experiencing in modern society is nothing new, per se. These protests against artistic works have always existed; however, the bodies and groups that, in general, have been at their origins, such as the church, are less well defined now. A “democratisation” of social outrage is discernible. For de Montaigne, it is clear that these public protests are only superficial and never serve the bigger cause. They don't even show an interest in getting to the core of the structural problems underpinning racist processes and convictions.

Stirn opined that the discussions are violent: there is physical, intellectual and moral violence inherent in them. Everyone is looking inward, focusing on their own identity, hindering constructive dialogue. de Montaigne added that society has the right to decide who is allowed to speak for whom. For example, people with white skin colour are not allowed to talk about topics that concern people of dark skin colour. To follow Hanks' logic, heterosexuals are not allowed to talk about topics that concern homosexuals. And that is exactly the definition of discrimination. However, freedom of artistic creation implies that an artist can talk about whatever he or she is interested in, and de Montaigne concluded by saying that people should not forget one thing: we all also have the freedom to choose which pieces of art we want to consume, and which ones we want to avoid or ignore.

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