On 16 May 1871, the Vendôme Column – the symbol of Napoleon-era imperialism – came toppling down. In its stead, the Communards renamed the plaza ‘Place Internationale’. For them, the Paris Commune, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, was also a cultural fight – the necessity of toppling old symbols of Empire in order to erect emancipatory ones for humanity.
In honour of this anniversary, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research along with 26 international publishers, organised an online exhibition, Paris Commune 150. We invited artists from all over the world to reflect and reimagine the legacy of the Commune for the people’s struggles of today and tomorrow.
The exhibition gathers work from 41 artists from 15 countries, with two works selected to be the cover and back cover art in the joint book publication Paris Commune 150 in 18 languages, which will be launched on 28 May – the day the Paris Commune was defeated 150 years ago. But as Karl Marx said, every defeat is in turn a lesson for the working class, to strengthen the struggles to come.
This exhibition gathers almost the same number of artists who established the Federation of Artists in the middle of the 72-day-long workers’ state. 47 painters, sculptors, architects, engravers and decorative artists came together and declared in their manifesto: ‘The last cannon, its upturned muzzle covered with a phrygian bonnet, planted on a pedestal resting on three cannon balls: that colossal monument that we’ll erect together on the place Vendôme will be our column, for you and for us, the column of the people.’ Gustave Courbet, French socialist painter and one of the communards behind the Vendôme Column’s toppling, was elected the Minister of Culture – he called the Commune ‘the beautiful dream’.
From the embers of ‘the beautiful dream’, new rebellions and revolutions have been and continue to be sparked. The images in this exhibition are some of these sparks that carry on the Commune’s legacy so that new dreams can be dreamt, new socialist monuments can be erected. Viva la commune!