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“Heil Le Pen!” Femen protest (photo via Femen website)

PARIS — Parisian pundits have kept occupied this week as Marine Le Pen suspended her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, from his position as honorary president of the far-right Le Front national (National Front) that he co-founded in 1972, for having repeated his views that the Nazi gas chambers were only a historic “detail” (he has been convicted 18 times for professing similar holocaust-belittling remarks). The remark came from a recent interview he gave with extremist newspaper Rivarol, where he also called for a defense of the “white world” against immigration. But most Parisians seem to have overlooked the radical, anti-fascist, irony-soaked, “top-down” demonstration by the international women’s movement Femen that took place on May 1, three days before Jean-Marie’s suspension, in opposition to the hysterical (if hoary) National Front.

Marine (46, named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people of the year) has taken the National Front to new heights with notable gains in lower-house senate and local elections and openly covets the French presidency in 2017 (though unlikely will get it) and is in the midst of a campaign to de-demonize the party by purging comical Nazi boosters and skinhead “Heil Hitler!” saluters. Que Femen.

Established in the Ukraine in 2008 and now in political exile in Paris, Femen’s trademark is bare-breasted woman with black, blocky words painted on their upper-nude bodies in uppercase fonts (a technique enhanced and made familiar to those at Art Basel last year by Milo Moire with her “The Script System” (2014) nude performance). Femen maintains that it uses bare breasts as weapons to confront male power and bourgeois decadence, and not just as an art stunt meant to shock. It sounds to me oddly like a script pitch for Russ Meyer, whose manipulation of fetishistic obsession with large female breasts makes women more powerful than men, such as in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Supervixens (where female characters express anger and violence towards men). Touché.

Femen’s anti-patriarchal protests have been numerous (it must be like shooting fish in a barrel) but have been mostly overlooked by world media chains — even their invasion of Notre Dame and their denunciation of patriarchal, fundamentalist Islam on the Champs-Elysées, where they brandished plastic Kalashnikov rifles. That protest came days after an ISIS spokesman urged all Muslims to kill “dirty” and “spiteful” French citizens when France joined the US-led coalition to fight the jihadist organization.

As you can tell, Femen performs timely and strategic theatrical activist stunts on the streets to gain media attention. The performances are nominally nonviolent but aggressive confrontations aimed to provoke the police as a way of exposing the coercive nature of patriarchal male power (including all Western churches and religions). Femen has been particularly hard on Putin, destroying a wax dummy of him at the Musée Grevin.

The making of a “Boobsprint” (photo via Femen website) (click to enlarge)

On May 1, forgoing their usual flowers-in-their-hair-look for the “basic pleasure model” guise that Daryl Hannah wore as Pris in Blade Runner, the “sextremists” (as they call themselves) decided to confront the National Front with irony by exposing themselves topless in a Nazi salute to Marine Le Pen from a hotel balcony (replete with two red banners and a bull horn) overlooking the Place de l’Opera, where the National Front was holding its annual tribute to the 15th-century figure Joan of Arc. The women wore and shouted the words, “Heil Le Pen!”, “Congratulations my Führer!” and “Le Pen Top Fascist!” Numerous men of the National Front’s security services very forcefully (almost violently) grabbed the women from behind and pulled them inside the hotel, and ripped off the banners. The Femen activists were arrested, and are now filing a legal complaint for violence, break-in, and arbitrary arrest.

In researching this brave group of young women, I found it curious that Femen finances itself by selling on the internet an intriguing signed artwork made by the activists called a “Boobsprint”: a paint impression/transfer of two female breasts onto a flat support. Upon purchasing, one may specify which activist the Boobsprint is to come from. A Boobsprint is sold with photographs of the making of the print to support its authenticity and social standing as a unique art object.

The work vividly recalls Yves Klein’s Anthropométrie series from 1960 (he too was adept at self-mythology and media attraction), in which live nude models painted each other from buckets of lush IKB Blue paint, while Klein (wearing white gloves) directed them verbally, never touching the paint or the bare models. Perhaps subconsciously, Klein’s works were a commentary on the pseudo-scientific “anthropometry” term as used by the Nazis. The connection between Femen and Klein, while not intentional, seems apt as feasible fascisms return to the political arena.

Yves Klein, “Suaire de Mondo Cane (Mondo Cane Shroud)” (1961), dry pigment and synthetic resin on gauze (Collection Walker Art Center; Gift of Alexander Bing, T. B. Walker Foundation, Art Center Acquisition Fund, Professional Art Group I and II, Mrs. Helen Haseltine Plowden, Dr. Alfred Pasternak, Dr. Maclyn C. Wade, by exchange, with additional funds from T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2004; © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris)

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an artist whose computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University...

12 replies on “Topless Femen Protesters “Salute” Marine Le Pen for Her Fascist Politics”

  1. “…uses bare breasts as weapons to confront male power and bourgeois decadence…”

    It’s like using candy to confront obesity.

    1. It is what it is Jered : détournement culture jamming from a band of young people. But when I looked deeper (there are branches in other nations) I found not all the activists were slender and beautiful, yet they all bare their breasts. So yes, they use cat nip.

      1. So, the women less “slender and beautiful”… still catnip? There is nothing brave about doing Mardi Gras boob shows. And there is nothing patriarchal about arresting female flashers. Go outside, unzip, and let loose yourself and you’d get arrested too. Do it in the States and you’d be put on the national registry of sex offenders with a mugshot. Nude stunts are silly as a premise for gender equality.

        1. I think there is a role for street dramaturgy wherever one lives. It is true that female breast are shown by every age on every beach in France, so it is the gender context (and yelling) that counts a good deal. But I fear we are talking past each other.

          1. I suppose we are. It’s difficult for me to disassociate “I’m getting naked as a form of feminist protest” from my freshman year of art school, where that was sort of a genre. If these women are making objective gains with their political goals, rather than just being spectacles, more power to them. How that’s happening, I struggle to imagine. Thanks for your responses and the article.

    1. Indeed it is relevant that the Femen group was masterminded in its early years by Victor Svyatski, who supposedly hand-picked the prettiest girls to front the organization. But their current leader Inna Shevchenko has made it very clear that Femen has long since moved on… without Svyatski. This is them in action now: https://youtu.be/73uCopIeejU

          1. yes, I do … I think there’s questionable politics in this group’s DNA, and I don’t think its problems have gone away just because the original leader has apparently left the scene …

          2. How would you know if they have gone away or not? I ask as something of a shoegazer in this regard.

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