Montpellier moves its compass towards Africa with a new biennale


French President Emmanuel Macron during the Africa-France summit in Montpellier on October 8, 2021.

Philippe Saurelformer dissident socialist mayor of Montpellier, liked to dream of his city in “New French California”a land of soap operas and trendy contemporary art. “Pretentious! »tackles his successor, the socialist Michael Delafossewhich, to stand out, has strategically shifted its compass to Africa.

In 2021, the prefecture of Hérault had blown in Bordeaux the organization of the Africa-France summit and hosted, the same year, one of the headquarters of the Africa 2020 season. To maintain this momentum, Montpellier has just commissioned the Franco-Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo to dress the trains of its fifth tramway line. The city is also concocting for the month of October a brand new African biennial centered on culture and research. “With Africa 2020, there were desires and hopes, which we do not want to break with this hard law of events which consists of ticking a box and then moving on to something else”summarizes Vincent Cavaroc, director of the Halle Tropisme, which carries the operation.

But, for Michaël Delafosse, the most important project, on the political and budgetary level, remains that of an institute of France and Algeria. The idea is not his. She was among the twenty-two recommendations of Benjamin Stora’s report on Franco-Algerian reconciliation, presented in January 2021 to Emmanuel Macron.

The twenty-year-old story dates back to 2002, when Georges Freche (1938-2010), who reigned over Montpellier for more than three decades, imagined a “museum of the history of France in Algeria”. The wording chosen to please the Pieds-noirs makes the other communities howl. To embrace all the bruised memories, his successor as president of Montpellier Agglomeration, Jean-Pierre Moure, opted for the more sober name of “museum of the history of France and Algeria”. A scientific committee composed of renowned historians is set up, a curator, Florence Hudowicz, appointed to take care of it. Some 20 million euros are released to renovate the Hôtel de Montcalm, which was to house it, as well as for the purchase of works. But, barely elected, Philippe Saurel torpedoes the project in 2014 to create, instead, a center for contemporary art, the MoCo. The collection of 600 objects and some 5,000 documents, built up over the years, was then transferred to the MuCEM in Marseille.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers The project for a museum of the history of France and Algeria is relaunched

A year after his election, in 2021, Michaël Delafosse proposes to relaunch the machine. The timing is opportune. The Head of State, Emmanuel Macron, has made memorial reconciliation one of the keystones of his diplomacy in Africa. The witnesses have given way to young historians who have no accounts to settle or ideological scores to defend.

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