Belleville is a good place for political art. Here are a few known ones. The skull soldier showing that war means death (not career advancement) always has a well taken care of plant just below it, making the tableau complete. Mad Marx, who I posted last year, seems to have acquired some friends (or did I just not notice before?), an Israeli man and a Palestinian man kissing one another. The black cat–well, there has to be a cat, right?
They all are posted at La Villa Faucheur, historic site of anarchists Ravachol and Émile Henry, later also of the Piat resistance group during WWII. It also used to house some well-known small craftsmen. It was restructured in the 50s as government run workers housing by the Sonacotral, Société nationale de construction de logement de travailleurs algériens (National Society for Contruction of Algerian Workers Housing). The goal of the restructure was to get Algerian immigrants out of the shantytowns ringing the city as well as to watch and control them. To this end, directors were selected from retired French military officers who had served in the Maghreb.
The skull painting has a point. War is about death and it keeps killing, controlling and constraining after it is over. The Sonacotrals are just one example of how the colonial mindset continued to have an influence in France after the Algerians won their liberation.
Later, the Villa increasingly housed black Africans as well.
There’s an old French restaurant across from the Villa entrance where they still play accordion music at dinner. The restaurant has some traditional paintings on its storefront. Walking around, one can imagine oneself a French leftist in old Belleville.
Today, the area is a mix of Africans, working class whites and–of course–gentrifiers. Gentrifiers are called ‘Bobos’ in France and each year Belleville seems a bit more boboized. It’s always striking to see how segregated French outdoor restaurants are–not by law, of course, but by custom. In a very mixed neighborhood, you can be at a restaurant whose customers all are white just a foot away from one whose customers all are North African. Near Villa Faucheur, there’s a restaurant with a nice view of Parc de Belleville where African boys regularly play right up next to reserved tables of white people seemingly testing the boundaries.