Imagin(IN)g Racial France: Envoi
France is most cosmopolitan where it is least central. If the City of Lights is a cosmopolis, it is far less so in Saint-Germain- des- Près or the Marais, “les Champs,” or the sixteenth arrondissement than in its banlieues (disenfranchised suburbs). Here an extraordinary brassage (a mix and, at times, a linking of arms) is at work that speaks as few words can to the tangible reality of postcolonial France.
The mix is not a happy one; poverty, inadequate services (from housing to sanitation, transportation, policing, and schooling), and a staggering number of dreams shattered attend its spaces. And yet it is stunningly vibrant. Failure to say so would amount to an extraordinary failure of the imagination. A mind-boggling wealth of languages; cuisines; poetries and musical genres; fashions; scents and holy writs; names; coiffures; gestures; greetings; degrees granted by universities ranging from Bahia to Lahore, Tallinn and N’Djamena; and call centers linking the suburbs of Bobigny, Saint-Denis, and Mantes-la- Jolie to the farthest reaches of the planet: beyond the périphériques (the two beltways that separate Paris proper from its banlieues) is where it’s at. Not joyfully, but very much there all the same: b(l)ooming in spite of well-to- do France’s disdain. Nowhere is this as evident as in the explosion of artistic activity taking place in the banlieues. Individual artists and collectives, activist art spaces and teaching hubs, some wholly ephemeral and few of which make it to the limelight of the city center, are located there, many in closer touch with the heartbeat of twenty-first- century global life than the chic districts that attract international collectors and art aficionados.
This envoi celebrates a few projects among many that highlight creative energies at work beyond le périph (Parisian slang for the two beltways that loop around the capital). The focus is on two areas: the banlieue area just north of central Paris, best known to those who make their home there as le neuf trois (93 — the local postal code prefix), and, slightly farther and to the west, le sept huit (78).
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