Facing the pain and fear of the bloodshed in the French capital, art is here to heal. After the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13th November, people all around the world show their solidarity with this city, with many stating “pray for Paris” on social media while others do not much like this religious note. Street artists show their love and support in a unique way –#sprayforparis. Street artist Goin started the hashtag #sprayforparis on Instagram with his artwork illustrating a muse resembling that in Eugène Delacroix‘s painting, Liberty Leading the People. Instead of holding a French national flag, Goin‘s muse is holding a paint roller dipped in the French tricolours, and the caption reads “The paint must flow, not the blood!” Many other street artists from different places echo this call with their talents, not only in Paris or France, but even as far as Melbourne, Australia.
One week after the incident, I went to the Place de la République where people come with flowers and candles in memorial of the victims of the attacks. Then, I saw an artist spraying on a wall in the square, presenting colourful forms and words in French meaning “yes to life…” while on the other side, large graffiti on a black background with white font states “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, which has recently caught much attention on media . It was painted by a team of Parisian graffiti artists called the Grim Team. The team also made a similar piece in another spot by the Canal St. Martin, on the other bank where people come and gather in silence in front of the restaurant and café that endured horrifying attacks.
But what is “Fluctuat nec mergitur”? It is the motto of Paris in Latin, translated as “tossed by the waves but does not sink”. This motto is present in the city coat of arms depicting a ship floating on a rough sea, which can be seen in a recent piece of street art by yearz1 too. Both the motto and the city arms had been used for centuries by the powerful river Seine’s boatsman corporation, which ruled the city’s trade and commerce, before they were made official in 1853 by the Baron Haussmann. The artists have revitalised this centuries-old motto in a cool way, reminding heartbroken Parisians of this tough and persevering spirit.
On a wall right opposite the attacked restaurant and café, Fred le Chevalier, a well-known Parisian street artist who also lives in that district has stuck a figure dressed in black and white, holding a candle in her hand and a heart-shaped teardrop falling from her eye. The figure is able to cover some of the bullet holes in that wall. Being much lighter compared to the heavy atmosphere just metres away, his art offers comforting compassion to this miserable corner of the city and the devastated people around it. Near to this spot, another street artist juxtaposed the legendary Parisian photo The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville with red paint on the couple symbolising gunshot wounds, alongside French words written in red meaning “not even hurt”. The message is simple but compelling, that the love represented by the kiss would not be hurt even by brutal terrorist shootings.
All of these beautifully painted walls in the streets may not have comparable monetary value with the so-called “high art” that is being sold for millions in auction houses, but they are simply invaluable. These artistic walls are there to show love and support and to spread mighty spirits and positive energy, particularly at this difficult time when people in the city are most in need. There should not be any walls, or wars, to divide humankind, either by religions, races or nationalities. The walls are to defend those previous values and virtues of human civilisation which are the best weapons to counteract terrorism. So, yes, leave paint, not pain, on these walls; let’s spray not only for Paris, but also for Beirut, for all the suffering people, and for a brighter world!