these African students who find their place in art schools

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Merveille Kelekele, Congolese student of Beaux-Arts in Paris, in front of his works.

Enrolled in the second year of Beaux-Arts in Paris, Merveille Kelekele, 21, has a niaque. The Congolese student was impatient to find there, Tuesday, September 13, his easel and his brushes. If first-year students struggle to find their way, he can easily navigate the maze of buildings and listed courtyards of this “old world” millefeuille, set in 1817 on the Quai Malaquais, opposite the Louvre. . Merveille Kelekele assimilated all the codes of contemporary art and the techniques taught by her referent teacher, the artist Stéphane Calais. “I had a great first year”he congratulated himself, taking advantage of his opportunity to exhibit and sell.

Born in a small town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Merveille Kelekele grew up very fast. As a child, he assumed the role if not the head of the family, at least an aide-de-camp, taking care of his siblings. At 9, he followed his parents to Europe, first to Portugal, before moving to Saint-Etienne. As far back as she can remember, Merveille Kelekele enjoyed drawing. Artist, this is his destiny, which nothing can stop. “My mother was skeptical, but my father managed to convince her”the young man smiled, acknowledging that “African families cannot be accepted in this kind of orientation”.

Also read: The movement of African students in France to increase in 2022

Almost 10% of art school students become artists, the majority moving towards creative professions such as graphic designers or designers. Concern about professional opportunities explains the small number of African students in art schools. In this new school year, Merveille Kelekele is still an exception, like Anges Lognon before him.

“We often hear ourselves say that art is a white thing, a luxury that we cannot afford, in the order of pleasure or entertainment”, rebounded this 28-year-old Ivorian, recently graduated from the National School of Decorative Arts (Ensad), in Paris. A course he embraced with passion and relentlessness. “I was told: even if it means doing an ‘unnecessary’ job, you can also be the best!”he laughed.

Passed through several establishments before completing his studies at Ensad, Anges Lognon has not forgotten the anxiety of the beginning of the school year. “I counted the number of blacks every time and I approached themhe said. It’s not communitarianism, but a way of committing myself to a predominantly white landscape. » If he salutes a school that “helping students, without distinction”he had a bad time in his first year at Ensad. “You don’t always feel out of place”he breathed.

Tuition fee increase

With a natural optimism, Merveille Kelekele prefers to ignore the small words of some, the more pronounced caution of others, “who wants to show they’re not racist”. He could hear the hum of some of his colleagues struggling to find their marks. But in his eyes, “There is a difference between African students who come from Africa, like me, and those born in Europe, who are more sensitive, more rebellious, who think they were chosen to fulfill a quota policy”.

In the two major schools in Paris, there are only about ten African students

Director of the Annecy School of Art (Esaaa), Stéphane Sauzedde laments this: “Of the 45 art schools in France, Africa is the least represented continent among all foreign contingents. » The situation is different in every city. At the Beaux-Arts de Marseille, the movement around the Mediterranean facilitated the reception of students from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. In the two major schools of Paris, on the other hand, there are only about ten African students.

Also read University Tuition Fees: “A Very Negative Impact on African Students”

The mistake, according to Stéphane Sauzedde, in “bad signal” sent to France. In 2018, at the very moment when Emmanuel Macron announced the return of 26 royalties to Benin, his prime minister at the time, Edouard Philippe, ordered a 1,400% increase in tuition fees for non-nationals students. European Union. By this standard, the registration of a master from 243 to 3,770 euros!

The National Association of Public Art and Design Higher Schools (Andea) immediately mobilized, calling for a column published in December 2018 by Everyday Art on “a world where the South-North axis is not a series of walls and barbed wire lined counters where you pay in dollars or euros”.

National schools never change their prices, which are set by the Ministry of Culture, choosing not to sort students according to their nationality. Municipal establishments, which are the most numerous, can on the other hand apply different prices. “If we make a difference in the economy, the first to be punished are the students of Africa”, protested to Stéphane Sauzedde, who, in his school, refused the two-speed system. And to regret that “Art schools widely retain the image of elitist places where culture and social reproduction are played out”.

Imported and inappropriate goods

This fall, the magazine Africa, created by Cameroonian artist Pascale Obolo, will publish a special issue titled “Racism, silence, mobilization: where are the art schools? “. It lists the experiences and doubts of black students in France, but also the practices that, “gesture by gesture, form by form”contribute to changing the situation.

Emmanuel Tibloux is one of those who, with small touches, move the lines. The head of Ensad recently created a postcolonial and decolonial studies position within the “History, theory, criticism” college. To expand the social and geographical spectrum of students, he developed last year the Ateliers Médicis, in Clichy-Montfermeil, a new type of school, La Renverse, intended for young people from Seine-Saint -Denis. Of the fifteen students enrolled in 2021, twelve are from Africa, half from the Maghreb. “We can learn a lot from African studentsinsisted Emmanuel Tibloux. They bring to our school a logic of thinking that is not based on innovation, but on creativity and healing. »

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Like Thierno Sidy Barry. The young Guinean cut his teeth at the National School of Art and Design in Limoges, before participating this year in the post-master’s “Design of rural worlds” at Ensad, taught in the small town of Nontron.( Dordogne). The young scholarship holder, who will return to school on September 20, remembers that “There is no design or almost none in Guinea”. The country, in fact, imports goods that often do not fit the context and local customs.

“I come from a poor country and in my projects, I try to reduce costs to allow everyone to enjoy design”, added Thierno Sidy Barry. He already knew that a theme planned for the program would be of great interest to him: the question of water. An important subject in his native country, where blue gold is rare.

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