Viviane Maier at Luxembourg

Reading the newspaper

Viviane Maier’s exhibition at the Musée Luxembourg this autumn showed us the life in everyday USA in the 1950s through the lens of this nanny – turned into a photographer.

A sweeper taking a rest

This is how the museum presents her: “The career path that Vivian Maier (New York, 1926 – Chicago, 2009) took is unusual yet is that of one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. It was at the heart of American society, in New York from 1951 then in Chicago from 1956, that the children’s governess meticulously observed the urban fabric that already reflected the great social and political changes in its history. It was the time of the American dream and overexposed modernity, the behind-the-scenes of which constituted the very essence of Vivian Maier’s work. The exhibition allows the public to see archives of the photographer that were discovered in 2007 and have not been seen before: vintage photographs that Vivian Maier printed, super 8 films never shown, audio recordings… As such the exhibition allows the full extent of the eminent artist’s work to be appreciated, and for her work to be placed in the history of photography.”

Her eye for details is extraordinary
A tender love scene
Mirror, mirror what are you telling me?
Love is in the air…
Taking a nap…
The odd couple

These are snapshots of a life long gone in a USA that was quite different from what it is today. It’s also an example of how a very ordinary person like Viviane can – with a creative eye – make an enormous difference for so many people, decades later.

Art is always art!

Anne Edelstam, Paris

Musée du Luxembourg 15 September 2021 – 16 January 2022

Online attacks on female journalists

The Swedish embassy in Paris together with the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) organised a conference, 26 November, 2021. The discussions evolved around the threats against female journalists on Internet.

– In Sweden, we have implemented, since a few years back, a feminist foreign policy; explained the Swedish Ambassador to France, Håkan Åkesson, in his introductory speech, this winter day.

A brochure was handed out that read “Sweden’s feministic foreign policy” (freely translated from French). OSCE also handed out a manual about safety for women journalists on social media.

The tone of voice on Internet gets rawer and rawer. Anonymity seems to brake normal civic codes. Teresa Ribeiro, representing freedom of speech at OSCE, talked about the daily attacks women journalists are submitted to in most parts of the world, on social media. Added to sexual harassments, women face threats to their children and families on a much larger scale than their male counterparts.

– Politicians and governments must take their responsibilities and defend these women. Human rights should become standard and safety measures implemented, at least within the EU, to start with.   

We were reminded of the Maltese investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galicia, who was murdered in a car bomb explosion, in 2017, after having exposed her government’s corruption and crimes. That same year, a Swedish journalist, Kim Wall, was murdered by the Danish inventor, Peter Madsen, while doing her job.

According to Ribeiro, these acts have to be seen as a major problem, affecting the entire society, and not only as a “women issue”.   

Pauline Adès-Mével, Reporters Without Borders’ spokesperson, clearified that another major problem on Internet is: the fake news. The amount of fake news flourishing on social media represent a real threat to serious journalism and to our democracies – based on trust, need it be repeated? It’s a gigantic and very lucrative industry. We’ve seen how it works lately, during the pandemic, with its massive anti-vaccine propaganda, for example.    

The French digital specialist, Henri Verdier, explained to the audience the difference between Internet and social media. It’s the latter (such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) that cause the problems. They are owned by private corporations who need to take their responisbilities and stop both the threats against female journalists and the fake news. He recommended us all to be vigilant and report it, as soon as we encounter any.

– Don’t forget that it was hate speeches, threats and false informations, spread on social media, that led to the decapitation of the French teacher, Samuel Paty; he added.

Likewise, the murder of the Maltese journalist had also started with threats on social media before she was actually killed. Anonymous threats and hate propaganda have led to pogroms in the past – such as during the Nazi regime in Germany – and lately we witnessed what happened in the Capitol in Washington D.C. when it was taken over by hulligans.

– As many as three quarters of women journalists are threatened, of which one fifth lead to actual attacks; said UNESCO’s General Secretary, Audrey Azoulay.

– As a result, many women journalists stop doing their jobs. It’s a global problem that needs to be adressed internationally.

The conference finished on a concensus: that rules need to be implemented to stop these threats, as well as the fake news circulating on social media. However, it demands that the EU and governments implement tougher measures. Not to forget the responsibilities of chief editors and male colleagues, who should also assist their female co-workers.  

Anne Edelstam

Joséphine Baker celebrated in Paris

The variety artist that seduced all Paris is honored and recognized, the 30 November 2021, by making her entrance at Panthéon. However it’s as a resistance and anti-racist that her memory will be celebrated this time.

Joséphine Baker (1906 – 1975) started her French career at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, then owned by the Swede, Rolf de Maré. The Swedish Ballet in Paris (1920 – 1925) had just been dismantled and was thus replaced by this american variety artist who danced in her famous banana-skirt.

Stepping off the train in Paris, she was ready for a new life, after experiencing a difficult childhood and two failed marriages in the USA. The artist, singer, dancer and eventually actress, rapidly became one of the parisians favourite artists.

After having married a frenchman, Joséphine became a French citizen in 1937. She decided to defintely making France her country of adoption after having returned to the USA only to find out that she was still considered as a second-rate citizen because of her skin colour.

She married four times but didn’t get any children of her own. Instead she created her own family by adopting twelve children of differing backgrounds, colour and culture. Her “rainbow family” was part of an attemt to combat racism.

During WWII, she became known for her skill of infiltrating the enemy lines, thanks to her status as a famous artist. Risking her own life, she smuggled out secret documents, hidden in her bra for Free France. In her partitions, she noted information written in invisible ink, that were sent to London. She traveled extensively around the world: to Lissabon – a spy nest – to Spain, Algeria and Marocco among others. She was invited everywhere, to all festivities.

– It’s so practictal to be Joséphine Baker, where ever I arrive, I’m just taken to parties!

She listened, flirted with important men, and then wrote down whatever was significant for the resistance to know about. Her disguise was perfect. After the war, she was distinguished with the Légion d’Honneur.

The newspaper, Le Parisien, announced these news, the 22 August 2021. It was part of President Macron’s promise of the “réconciliation” – reconciliation – that has also led to the restitution of some African artifacts to their countries. Macron, to honor this exceptional woman and to show his anti-racist stand, is now making Joséphine Baker’s legacy eternal, by letting her rest in the Panthéon.

It’s also a strong message to the extremists, just five months before the next presidential elections, according to the newspaper Le Télégramme (16 November 2021). During the March, alongside Martin Luther King, she honored France by wearing her French soldier’s uniform with all her medals.

– In France, I’ve never been afraid. There I’m considered a person and not a ‘colour’.

Her combat thus continues after her death.

Anne Edelstam, Paris.      

Cartier and Islamic artifacts

We have become so accustomed to associating Islamism with violence and terror, when there exists a totally different aspect of Islam. This heritage doesn’t have anything to do with black veils and hidden faces. On the contrary: it encompasses jewellery and artifacts of highest quality. The result of which can be viewed in Paris, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, this winter.

In this fabulous exhibition we discover how the famous French jeweller, Cartier, was inspired by the intricate Islamic art works; as a result of which, he designed several “Islamic collections”. 500 objects, from the 1900s to this day, are displayed in this exceptional show.

Frenchmen thrive at creating beautiful scenographies and this exhibition is no exception. A mixture of art works, from Persia to India, have been some of Cartier’s major sources of inspiration. It was very interesting to follow a couple of creations from design to the finished necklaces showed in a documentary. I appreciated the finished works even more after having understood the skills that were demanded of the artisans to create them.

The famous Egyptian jeweller and designer, Azza Fahmy, has also contributed to spread delight and interest in modern high class Islamic jewellery. Her works that are appreciated internationally are for sale in different worldwide venues. (

The French jewellers learned and were inspired by the antique Persian and Indian objects, some of which are displayed in the museum. It led to a new way of designing jewellery and other art works in Europe. Which eventually developed into what we now call “art déco”, a short for “arts décoratifs” in French – or decorative art. This development was a counter-reaction to the Bauhaus-school of simplicity and mass-production.

Oriental patterns and ancient books also inspired the jewellers. This is evident in the exhibited jewels: with their symmetric patterns and stones in sparkling colours. The entire exhibition exhalts luxury, glamour, joy, a belief in a better future and in the miracle of modern techniques.

For me, the show also represents the bridges that artists create between different cultures and the importance of learning and being inspired by each other traditions. My hope, therefore, lies in our evermore globalized world, where people of differing backgrounds mingle.

If you wish to learn more of this extraordinary Oriental heritage, then don’t miss this exhibition.

Anne Edelstam

Cartier et les Arts de l’Islam, aux sources de la modernité.

Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

21 October 2021 – 20 February 2022


The Narcissus Theorem

Jean-Michel Othoniel, known in Paris for his artwork at the Palais-Royal subway station, leads us here into the world of Narcissus. 70 sculptures are shown In Paris Petit-Palais, during the autumn of 2021.

In awe, I climbed the glass clad steps to this ancient palace. Jean-Michel Othoniel had used Indian hand-made, azurcolored glass bricks, the color of the sky, to reach the gilded porch. I was wondering what it represents: the entrance from one world to another; from reality to fiction; from this world to the next? Whatever it might be, the magic operates!

This sunny autumn day, I started my visit by taking a coffee in the museum’s garden where 26 sculptures were either hung up in the trees, like pearl necklaces; hidden in the foilage or placed in its marble corridors. Narcissus makes himself known everywhere, as the visitor can’t hide from his own image, reflected in the sculptures’ mirrors.

The exhibition is fitting for our epoch, when we measure our worth according to “selfies” – posted on Internet for general approval. Othoniel is definitely a man of his time.

I walked down to the ground floor in the museum, after having admired the huge and colorful glass lamp, hanging from the high ceiling. There the atmosphere changed, as I entered a dark glass cave. It was an interesting contrast to the upper floor.

There the artist shows the result of his cooperation with a Mexican scientist, Aubin Arroyo. The mathematician’s “wild knots” reminded Othoniel of his own glass pearls. The scientist’s results marries the artist’s creations. It also shows the incredible human complexities with its endless constellations. We are alike but still so unlike each other. And that’s what’s so beautiful and mystical. Othoniel’s glass mirrors, as well as Arroyo’s knots point to the cosmic eternity.

Thus Narcissus mythology  gets another, deeper and less ego-centered significance. Let’s instead get inspired by life’s magic. Art is a reflection of our frail humanity and in the same time of our infinite creativity. From glass works to mathematical formulas, the step might not be that long after all.

Anne Edelstam, Paris

Le Théorème de Narcisse

Petit Palais, Paris

28 September 2021 – 2 January 2022