Breaking News in Revolutionary Art: Johann Rousselot’s “Freedom Fighter” series

The most exciting art from the revolutionary scene this fall comes to us from Johann Rousselot, the Paris-based photographer who is already known to readers of A Revolution in Fiction thanks to his fabulous work on India in the DIGNITY exhibit (Amnesty International) which opened this spring in the USA (see “Teach This!” posting no. 10). We at Notre Dame were proud to welcome him to campus in February, and to feature his work in the DIGNITY exhibit, soon to launch its tour of the USA.

Now showing in Perpignan, Rousselot’s new work called “Freedom Fighters” draws on photographs he took on site in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Libya, and Tunisia, and which mix formal portraits with a variety of text (graffiti, Facebook), and montage techniques. They are all gripping, gorgeous, and powerfully wrought; check out his site!

To appreciate the continuity with the art of the 1790s, consider Rousselot’s portrait of Mouad Belghouat (alias L7A9D; El Haked – The Outraged) alongside the “Mysterious Urn” (ca. 179-99) (featured in our posting of May 13, 2009).
Rousselot’s caption explains that Mr. Belghouat, an engaged rap singer, was imprisoned for political reasons from September 09th, 2011 to January 12th, 2012. He quickly became an icon of the protests nationwide organized by the M20 – Movement of the 20th of February (2011). Seen among the royals on this wall, his portrait forms an ironic riff on celebrity-mongering or act of lèse-majesté. But if one day the caption disappears, his portrait may confound viewers seeking a straightforward political message. They may well wonder which side it supports, just like the enigmatic mixture of monarchical and republican iconography in the “Urn.”

As Rousselot explains, the M20 – Movement of the 20th of February –set up many protests in the main cities of the kingdom, and called for a boycott of the legislative poll of November 25th, 2011 where the king Mohamed VI attempted to calm down the Moroccan street and avoid any propagation of the Arab spring. “Graphic inspiration for this series came from the ubiquitous presence of the framed picture of King Mohamed VI in virtually every shop, hotel, train station, and administrative buildings of course. I decided to replace his image with those of the militants, like a lese-majesty crime.”

Bravo to Johann Rousselot for this brave and beautiful testimonial to the revolutionary spirit!

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