Enki Bilal’s Painting Exhibition Inaugurated at the French Embassy

June 6, 2012 | By French Culture

On June 25th, 2012, Enki Bilal’s new painting exhibition “Oxymoron” was inaugurated at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. The Cultural Counsellor, Mr. Antonin Baudry, opened the ceremony with a special speech welcoming the French artist.


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Antonin Baudry, I am the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy.

Welcome to Enki Bilal’s new exhibition, « Oxymoron », organized by Artcurial.

Thank you to the president François Tajan, and thanks to all his team, it is a real pleasure to work with you!

And of course, thank you Enki. I must say I am really happy to see you here in NYC.

We met three years ago, in Madrid, thanks to your paintings. I was the Cultural Counsellor there, and you were the creator of « Transit », a large fresco we exhibited as part of the project « DeMon, a world upside down ».

It was installed in a big black cube in front of the splendid Atocha railway station, whose botanical garden evokes travels and nomadism…

Inside, six unfinished characters came to life through six stories, by six famous Spanish writers. Among them, Rodrigo Fresan, one of the best living authors in the world, in my opinion.

You’re familiar with big black cubes.

And I know you have your own one, except yours is small and it’s a box. But it’s black.

This black box, like on a plane, is how you describe your memory, preciously preserving the records of your life. Indeed, you were born in Yugoslavia, a country that doesn’t exist anymore, but whose memory is still evolving.

You’re also a box creator!

Illustrative boxes, produced as independent pictures, in which heroes suffer from a memory disease: amnesia, hypermnesia, obsessions… I’m afraid it might be contagious, I can feel hypermnesia myself! I recall every detail of our first meeting.

I remember we met on Cuesta de Moyano, the favourite street of booklovers, another passion we share. I remember the bar La Sede where we had tapas and wine, and I remember Christian Desbois, your friend and gallerist of twenty-five years, who passed away two years ago. I know we both think of him tonight.

But what I remember most vividly is your ability to open up the arts, to take risks, to create experiences, to literally think outside the box… and out of illustrated boxes.

You create comic books, you paint, but you also make films, design sets and costumes for ballets, movies and operas, and you stage theater plays. One last detail, I’m curious… Is it true you’re also a sports coach?

You invented the ultimate sport, one that’s intellectual and physical … chessboxing ! Yet another box!

I don’t know what’s happening with the boxes… For those who don’t know what chessboxing is, see the lady with the horse over there: that’s what she is doing.  It is a new sport that combines chess and boxing, and that now has its own federations and world championship matches.

I wouldn’t like to upset this lady, but she looks very familiar… Isn’t she a metaphor of human relations in the French administration?

Maybe not. In fact, some French bureaucrats I know may have her angry gaze, but they don’t have her beauty unfortunately.

Hopefully, tonight, we’re not chessboxing. We are celebrating three important anniversaries.

Seventeen years ago, François Tajan’s father was here, in this same room, launching a new family tradition of exhibiting at the Cultural Services.

And, Enki, the last time you showed your paintings was seventeen years ago. Tonight, for the first time you have a solo exhibition in New York City! And I’m honoured to have you here.

Many capital cities hold a special place in your work like Belgrade, where you were born in 1951, or Paris, where you arrived at the age of ten. But New York is New York, the cultural capital of the world!

As a French person, I shouldn’t say that, but sometimes, after a long day of administrative chessboxing, I forget to be French… Which is actually very French too.

Inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, you created a futuristic New York of 2095, aerial and vertical, where taxis fly and people walk in the sky.

In your world, women have short blue hair and fascinating bodies, almost inhuman. Men are mutant warriors, worn-down resistant fighters, struggling against violent dictatorships.

Did you know your books had even become mandatory readings for diplomats?

Last week, during the parliamentary elections, UN and Embassy colleagues worked at the poll station, right here, in this room. As you probably suspect, abstention was very high here. There were calm moments. Very calm moments.

And at one point, I came into the room, they were all silent, reading, totally concentrated. It was a surreal moment. I wondered if something was wrong with the voters’ list… until I discovered a huge pile of your comic books hidden under a table.

And guess what they were reading: a New York story from Cœurs sanglants about a strange cake recipe and naked blue men.

I can’t resist telling this to you. This story is the perfect tribute to your first New York exhibition.

Mrs Lavinia Bumpurs was a former chef, 47 years old and 152 kilos, living on Lexington Avenue.

One day, while she was baking her traditional cake, made of flour, chocolate, baking powder, sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter, and - the secret ingredient - mayonnaise, she accidentally set her building on fire.

Surprisingly enough, her husband, Mr Melvin Birdsong, 42 years old and 128 kilos, said to the police that every time she bakes her cake, he sees blue naked men running in the street.

It turned out that Mrs Bumpurs had forgotten to mention a major ingredient: dynamite powder.

She was used to buying it at a sorcerer’s store, famous in the neighbourhood for his remedies against impotence...

The man admitted his powder might not exactly be non-flammable, but strongly denied it was hallucinogenic. Still, Mr Birdsong remained the only person ever to see blue naked men running in Lexington Avenue.

This cake is like your paintings: an immersive experience that broadens our imagination and makes us see blue naked men – and women. Which is also very French.

You’re a true visionary, with a power of imagination knowing no limits. Some people even believe you’re a prophet, having drawn premonitory events like September 11th.

Your world is terrifying, but not totally terrifying. It is also a world of beauty, with magnificent artisanal drawings, graphic poetry, and incredible emotions. A world of contradiction, contrast and complexity.

Your hero Nikopol, a man driven crazy by an Egyptian god living in his body, embodies it all. Is it madness or resistance? He keeps reciting The Fountain of Blood, a poem by Charles Baudelaire: « Il me semble parfois que mon sang coule à flots/ Ainsi qu’une fontaine aux rythmiques sanglots… »

There’s part of you in Nikopol, in Les Fleurs du Mal and in its oxymoronic complexity of beauty. Your work is a microcosm of our French culture.

This complexity, this ability to see beauty in ugliness, the will to go beyond appearances, it’s also what France is made of. And it makes us proud to have you as representative of French culture worldwide, as this exceptional exhibition will then travel to Beijing and Berlin.

Thank you Enki for your art. Enjoy the exhibition !

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