Saturday, 31 October 2015

Gallery Olympe de Gouges in Paris honours women's rights pioneer

Olympe de Gouges Gallery/credit: Veronique Mistiaen


These red letters  (in French) on a large poster in the window of the new art gallery rue de l’Odéon in Paris 6th stopped me in my tracks.

I read the poster: it was about an avant-garde woman who cherished freedom and opposed discrimination, violence and oppression in all its forms.  And she wrote the remarkable “Declaration of the rights of woman and the female citizen” in 1791. Her name was Olympe de Gouges.   I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know her.

Intrigued, I stepped inside. The lovely gallery’s manager, Victoria Otero, told me that Olympe de Gouges was a political activist and one of France’s first feminists. Although she was born in a modest family, she found her political voice by writing an astonishing number of pamphlets and posters that she freely disseminated around Paris.  Her pamphlets promoted bold, new ideas, such a total equality between sexes, female emancipation and abolition of the death penalty and slavery.  Ahead of her time, she was guillotined for her ideas in 1793.

The Olympe de Gouges gallery was conceived by a French entrepreneur whose offices were in the old building where Olympe de Gouges lived - on Servandoni street near St Sulpice Church, in the heart of the historic 6th arrondissement. To pay tribute to her,  he not only placed a commemorative plaque on the façade of his building, but decided to open an art gallery a few steps away. 

Olympe de Gouges's house/credit: Veronique Mistiaen

New in the golden triangle of Parisian galleries, the gallery Olympe de Gouges wants to “reinstate Olympe de Gouges,  talk about this woman too avant-garde for her time and pay tribute to her strength and convictions,” says Otero.

The gallery features artists who, like Olympe de Gouges, have a critical view on our contemporary world, fight against all forms of inequality and are not afraid to take risks.  As the art market tends to favour men, they also want to provide a space for women artists.  Exhibitions change monthly, which allows the gallery to showcase a wide variety of artists from all over the world.

Until November 11, the gallery featured the Sino-Irish artist Mia Funk. One of her most famous – and controversial – piece, "An Audience with the Queen" (Price Thames and Hudson 2010),  shows the British monarch and Lucian Freud seated naked on a couch sipping tea and eating Pot Noodles.  The work was meant to be exhibited in Dublin for the Queen’s first state visit, but  had to be quickly taken down following protests.

Their November exhibition will focus on immigration with Marc Bellini, a French photographer artist of Corsican origin, who through herbarium photograms traces the routes of migrants to Europe.