On 29 January 2018, the day after I turned 40, I went to the Louvre with the hopes of seeing an exhibition called “Théâtre du Pouvoir”. I’ve been visiting the world’s largest art museum, and a historic monument in Paris, for the past 20 years. Since I acquired my priority access card, almost a decade ago, I’ve visited every exhibition space in the museum and I always make the time to visit new temporary exhibitions.
The ancient Egyptian section is by far my favourite area of research and contemplation, but on the day in question I set off to view “Théâtre du Pouvoir”, a new exhibition in the space that promised to engage the connection between art and political power by exploring how governing entails self-presentation as a way of affirming authority, legitimacy and prestige. According to the publicity material, “art in the hands of patrons becomes a propaganda tool; but it can also be a vehicle for protest and subverting the established order.”
Unfortunately, I never got to see the show and can’t comment on its content as I was barred from attending after I became embroiled in a mini power play that enacted precisely the subject the exhibition promised to critique. As I attempted to enter the Louvre using the side entrance (my usual entrance) in Passage Richelieu, I was halted by a blond woman, who made it clear to me that I could not proceed. At first, I thought she was just another racist, but to my surprise I overheard her speaking Arabic with a colleague who arrived on the scene. Was this a case of an oppressed person who has faced discrimination so many times in their life that they feel the only way for them to rid themselves of their humiliation is to humiliate another “minority”? Racism has reached new heights, a sphere of complexity and stupidity.
I changed tactic and attempted the entrance at Rue de Rivoli, where I made my complaints about being barred earlier known to a group of guards who empathised with me. All was well, until one guard said she thought that maybe I was refused entrance because of the plastic breasts on the back of my hat. “Don’t you have paintings and sculptures of topless/naked women in the Louvre?” I asked, and she immediately realised how foolish her comment was.
The epitome of stupidity however came later when the Chef de Zone (Chief of Security) was called to make the final pronouncement as to whether me and my double-breasted hat should be allowed to enter. A short, beautiful French woman arrived, and I said to myself, “Maybe I have a chance to finally get in. Boy was I wrong – I would have been better off with Goebbels. She told me I had to take my hat off because it could cause “trouble à l’ordre public” (public disturbance) or a “mouvement de foule” (crowd movement).
Of course, breasts have been known to inspire wars – however, this seemed a bit extreme. It went further. While she acknowledged I was an artist and was even prepared to consider my hat as an art piece, “the Louvre was not a place for artists to exhibit themselves or their work.”
Uh, really? How could an art museum become so fascist? How can an institute contain so many breasts, and yet refuse a black artist and his breasted hat entry to its domus?
This and other stories available in the new issue of Chronic Books. Titled XIBAARU TEERE YI (Chronic Books in Wolof), it asks the urgent question: What can African Writers Learn from Cheikh Anta Diop?