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Meet the woman who brought bare-breasted ‘Mariannes’ to France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protests

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Meet the woman who brought bare-breasted ‘Mariannes’ to France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protests
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Among the sea of yellow vests at the anti-government protests that have been sweeping across France in recent months, there are often splashes of red — an ode to the symbol of the French Republic, Marianne.

From placards to red caps, the image of Marianne, who is viewed in the country as the personification of liberty, is frequently drawn upon by protesters.

In the most striking example, a group of bare-breasted demonstrators, wearing red-hooded jackets and silver body paint, last month faced off silently with riot police in the heart of the demonstrations.

The architect of the action, French-Luxembourgish nude performance artist Deborah de Robertis, spoke to Euronews about why Marianne is being used by gilets jaunes.

Why Marianne?

De Robertis is known for staging high-profile pieces of nude performance art, drawing upon famous historic paintings.

“My work as an artist rethinks our conception of the feminine nude”, she tells Euronews of her past performances, which include exposing her genitals in front of the famous Origin of the World painting at Paris’ Musee d’Orsay.

De Robertis says she was keen to show solidarity with the gilets jaunes movement by taking inspiration from the famous “Liberty Leading the People” painting by French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix.

The artist said she wanted to create a "feminist version" of Marianne — who is often used as a symbol for values such as truth and justice — in the streets "where history was going on."

Women “are the ones who get cancelled from history. For me it was very important to create an image where they are in the [front] line.”

Vivien Deleuze/Ma Chatte Mon
Deborah de RobertisVivien Deleuze/Ma Chatte Mon

An image that defines a movement

In what has become one of the most recognised images of the months-long gilets jaunes movement, De Robertis and four other ‘Mariannes’ stood in a “v” formation in front of riot police.

“To stand in front of the police was a way to protest against police violence and use them as our tool to create a strong political and feminist picture of resistance,” she said.

She told Euronews of the meaning behind the meticulously planned image.

“Under the media gaze, our naked breasts take them [the police] hostage and make them instruments of our political action and not the other way around.

“Our motionless bodies merge to create an image of resistance. The posture of our bodies was meant to imitate, like a deforming mirror, the military postures. Silver is the colour of our breasts — metal, weapons.”

“The straight back, in the front line, we embody with pride the great female presence in the revolt movement.”

'Mariannes', including Gala, Aghata Kay, Andrea Macea and Deborah de Robertis, face off with police.

Has Marianne changed the movement?

De Robertis believes her interpretation of Marianne has helped to elevate the position of female gilets jaunes.

While women have always been part of the protests, she says that until recently they had been sidelined.

“At the time when I did it, the question of women was very discreet. There were a lot of articles in the media questioning the place of women,” she said.

Since the action, she believes women have become more prominent within the movement, often using the symbol of Marianne to show off their presence.

“We, ‘Marianne Guiding the People’, are forever part of the history of this social revolt as women, feminists, citizens who advocate social and political equality”.