Friday 21 March 2014


French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was just one of the thousands of guests at the official opening of the Paris Salon du Livre (Book Fair) on March 20, proving that the predicted death of books is still a long way off.

Books on display at the Argentinian pavilion.
The annual event welcomed some 197,000 visitors last year, says spokesperson Daphnée Gravelat, and a similar or higher number is expected this year, as the Salon features writers from South America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and other regions.

Numerous authors will be giving readings, speaking with fans, participating in panel discussions and presenting their latest works over the next four days. The country of honour at this 34th edition of the fair is Argentina, with 46 writers from the Latin American country attending.

“Visitors to the fair can take stock of the vitality and diversity of Argentina’s contemporary literary production, which is at the same time widespread, inventive and poetic,” the organizers say.

They are using the occasion to “fêter” the 100th anniversary of the birth of Julio Cortázar, the highly influential Argentinean writer who spent many years in Paris, where he died in 1984. Visitors can learn more about the writer through a special exhibition at the fair on his life and work.

The African pavilion with bookseller Ruth Ntsiente
Literature by African writers is being highlighted as well, with a strong presence particularly of those who in write in French. They include Léonora Miano and Calixthe Beyala, both prize-winning authors born in Cameroon and now based in France; the controversial French-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou; and diplomat-author Henri Lopes, a former prime minister of the Republic of the Congo.

Many of the authors will meet the public at the pavilion titled “Livres et auteurs du Bassin du Congo” (Books and Writers of the Congo Basin), where a live band and traditionally dressed hostesses greeted literature fans on opening night.

Through individual publishers, the Caribbean is being represented by writers such as the prize-winning novelist and poet Olive Senior, who has just had a bi-lingual poetry collection published in France - Un pipiri m'a dit/ A little bird told me - which she will present on Saturday.

Senior, whose books of short stories have also been translated into French, said she was delighted to attend the Salon for the first time. She said she supported plans by SWAN’s editor and fellow Jamaican writer Alecia McKenzie to try to organize a Caribbean pavilion there in the future.
Senior (l.) at the Salon with publisher Marc Torralba
 and  Christine Raguet (translator of an earlier book)

For those who love comic books, some of the top Japanese Mangakas (cartoonists) are on hand during the weekend, at the huge section of the fair devoted to the genre. Fans will be able to rub shoulders with Kaoru Mori and Kaori Yuki, the respective authors of A Bride’s Story and Angel Sanctuary.

They will be joined by several Chinese artists, illustrators and writers as the Salon du Livre has named booming, vibrant Shanghai the “city of honour” this year. 

Saturday 8 March 2014


A photograph by Angèle Etoundi Essamba at the UNESCO show.

The statistics are sobering: “women and children constitute two-thirds of the world’s poor … women make up just 21 percent of the world’s parliamentarians … seven out of 10 women report having experienced violence in their lifetime”.

Even on International Women’s Day (March 8), women will experience abuse and worse. Aware of this, the artists taking part in a wide-ranging exhibition at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, have chosen to focus on women’s strength in the face of continuing struggles.

Through paintings, photographs, sketches, video and other media, they are highlighting women’s contributions and perseverance in a world where girls still face discrimination in many countries, including those that are member states of UNESCO.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba discusses her work. (© McKenzie)
“This is about strength as well as fragility,” said the Cameroon-born photographer Angèle Etoundi Essamba, who has contributed 25 luminous portraits from her “Women of the Water” project to the group show.

Her huge photographs depict women, girls, and mothers with children as they go about their work or daily life on the waterways of Benin. The aim is to show how women are coping with climate change, poverty and global water issues, amid other concerns. But the overall impact is one of beauty.

“The show combines art and development,” Essamba said. “It shows the daily struggles that these women are dealing with, but they go for it, they fight and they survive.

“This is what inspired me to do this work - to show how brave they are, and how elegant and strong and proud they are,” she added.

The subjects of her photographs are dressed in traditional clothing, and are seen steering canoes, ferrying their children to school, washing clothes. The creative use of light and colour take the pictures into the realm of art, but art that inspires discussion.

Photojournalist Natalia Ivanova with image. (© McKenzie)
Emmanuel Dollfus, a spokesman with the French Development Agency, which partially funded the project, told SWAN that the photographs would help to make the international community more aware of the impact of climate change on local communities and especially on women. Besides Paris, Essamba’s works will be seen in a number of other cities, including Amsterdam, where she is based.

The UNESCO exhibition, which is open to the public until March 20, also features paintings from Azerbaijan artist Asmar Narimanbekova, Bangladeshi painters Rokeya Sultana and Kanak Chanpa Chakma, and traditional textile art from indigenous women in Bolivia.

For her part, the Russian photojournalist Natalia Ivanova is presenting a project that examines notions of feminine beauty. Titled “Les Origines de la Beauté ” (The Ethnic Origins of Beauty), the non-commercial documentary and artistic venture seeks to capture feminine appearances in all their diversity.

Ivanova has photographed women in Moscow as well as in Paris, including some who were just passing through, and the project includes a video of interviews in which her subjects talk about their life and experiences.

One hundred women have so far participated in the photo series, but Ivanova plans to create more than 5,000 portraits, which would bring together all the “ethnicities of the human race”. The project is also a plea for peace and for an end to discrimination, she said.

An excerpt from "The Ethnic Origins of Beauty" by Natalia Ivanova