It’s not a huge secret that I love Martinique. I try and play it cool like it’s a place like any other, with its good and bad, people and places. Just another Caribbean island but with a French twist, but that’s a lie. The truth is that I love this complicated place despite myself. And several seemingly unconnected innocuous events will help me explain why.
First, there was the night I debated and discussed until I fell asleep. Exhausted, we all crashed out on our sofa. Me, and the husband and wife creative team I’ve been calling housemates this past summer. The subject? The private view had of Hélène Raffestin‘s art exhibition ‘Sois belle et plais toi’ which I’ll translate as ‘be beautiful and make yourself happy’ (‘please yourself’ has distinctly sexual connotations in English). The title had intrigued my housie who noticed the play on the play of words on the charming French expression ‘Sois belle et tais toi’ aka ‘be beautiful and shut up’. Who says the French aren’t romantic? We were both looking forward to seeing how her desire to look at ‘the role of women in our contemporary society’ would manifest itself in her art.
She did a good job. Art is supposed to provoke debate and emotions and she certainly did that. According to the flyer, Raffestin lives and works in Martinique, did her first art school here, and we infer was born here. The picture of her is shadowy, so although she looks ‘kinda white’ she could also be mixed. Why is that important? Because this is Martinique. The personal, the impersonal, the private, the public, it’s all political! Martinique, an ‘overseas region of France’ exists as a complete anachronism. A colony in the classic Age of Empire sense of the world in the age of 21st century necolonialism. And it retains many of the features of a colony, such as skin colour as an arbiter of social class.
Raffestin’s critique of women in ‘our contemporary society’ threw up immediately the question of ‘which society?’ Continue reading