Les Militantes – Guerlain’s New Art Exhibiton Is Dedicated To Women’s Activism

To celebrate Guerlain’s Paris+ Art Basel partnership, the international art fair that took place in Paris for the very first time; Guerlain, one of the world’s first perfume houses, that is strongly engaged in sustainable activities such as the preservation of bees, supporting art and empowering women, has curated an extraordinary and meaningful show: LES MILITANTES, a new exhibition dedicated to women’s activism. Bringing together 21 established and emerging contemporary artists who share strong messages for a fairer world through their works.

Dedicated to the commitment of women, Guerlain opened the doors of its boutique on the Champs-Élysées to 21 international female artists, from established to emerging, pioneers to recent graduates, all of whom wish to embody a movement, progress ideas and transform perceptions. The show takes place form 19 October – 14 November 2022

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„Guerlain is proud to support Les Militantes, to make these artists’ work accessible to the wider public and for audiences around the world to experience the beauty of art.“ says Ann-Caroline Prazan, Director of Art, Culture and Heritage at Guerlain. „The theme of activist art raises the question of our relationship to art, whether it is aesthetic or political.

Maison Guerlain considers contemporary art to be defined by the fact that it reflects the society in which it is created, it becomes a mirror and thus confronts the viewer with a reality that is often full of injustice, fear and danger. It is at this point that the perspective or the point of view of the artist becomes essential because what she shows us corresponds to his own sensibility.

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„Amongst the committed and militant artists, we have chosen to show women activists, who have since the second half of the last century carried the voice of those who, until now, have rarely been on the walls of museums and in the archives of art history.“ Prazan says.

„We dedicated our first exhibition to women in 2017, with “And God created women’. We celebrated their creative force and beauty. Here we want to highlight their ability to be real game changers. We have selected, together with Caroline Messensee and Ann Caroline Prazan, 21 committed artists, including renowned artists such as Kiki Smith, Bianca Bondi and Francesca Pasquali, pioneers such as Niki de Saint Phalle or Louise Bourgeois; and emerging artists such as Min Zhang, the youngest, who has proposed an innovative work combining Chinese shamanism, social network algorithms and interactivity. Each one brings a perspective, a path, and moves forward a debate. It is a source of pride for Guerlain to bring them together.“ Véronique Courtois, President of Guerlain adds.

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All of these unique artists couldn’t be different from one another, yet their diversity unites them and makes this exhibition so special. Together their voices are even more powerful by raising concerns about current political, environmental, social and ethical issues. By supporting each other these 21 women send a strong message to be heard by the world, by governments, by society and by each viewer: „Listen to us. We want to see change in the world, in you. Stop the empty words, take action towards a better, healthier and inclusive future.

Among the strong struggles these activists mention, the ones that Maison Guerlain carries with the most determination are the defense of nature and sustainable development.

„We source our raw materials from all over the world, in what are often fragile ecosystems. We have revolutionised our ways of doing things, our processes and our human resources management, everywhere. Our ‘Bee Respect’ programme and transparency programme has put us at the forefront of our industry. The second major battle is the battle for women. For example, women are now central to the management of the of the company. But above all, we have launched in 2021 the “Women for Bees” programme, with UNESCO, to support women’s entrepreneurship in beekeeping throughout the world. For 5 years, we will finance the training of 50 women, who will be able to start their own business and in turn share their knowledge.“ Véronique Courtois says.

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Two of my personal highlighted artworks of the LES MILITANTES exhibition are:

German Born Kiki Smith (1954) is an American artist who now lives and works in New York. Since the 1980s, she has been known for her multidisciplinary practice: sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings, books, tapestries and objects. One of the characteristics of her work is the representation of the human body, and more particularly the female body, its anatomy and, its imprint. The latter is sometimes shown in a disturbing, altered or fragmented way. Since the mid-1990s, her research has focused on the cosmos and myths; In her work, she mixes animality and fairy tales, suggesting both wonder and fear. While observing the sculpture you wonder whether it is a woman playing with the dog (that looks like a wolf) or if the dog is actually attacking her. As we could see in an accompanying art work from this series: the latter is the case.

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French artist Jeanne Susplugas (1974) lives and works in Paris. I have personally met her at Guerlain to speak with her about her art work La Maison Malade. Jeanne Susplugas’ approach, committed and sensitive, attacks all forms and strategies of confinement. She constantly questions the individual’s relationship with himself and with others, in the face of an obsessive and dysfunctional world. “La Maison malade” is a closed space, saturated with boxes of medicine. An improbable pharmacy in chaos, overflowing with packages, piled up from floor to ceiling. Each box tells a story. A claustrophobic installation in the image of a Western society sick of overproduction, satiated to the point of choking on drugs and other prescriptions. A strong message to the individual viewing it that says: stop, reflect, question, and inform and educate yourself what true health really means, and if there might be alternatives to chemical medicine, which could be better for you.

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