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The Lekto problem: The Macron–Hitler fresco controversy explained

Graffiti artist Lekto's recent fresco, which is sparking controversy in France
Graffiti artist Lekto's recent fresco, which is sparking controversy in France Copyright Twitter
Copyright Twitter
By David Mouriquand
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A fresco by French graffiti artist Lekto, which compares President Macron to Hitler, is sparking controversy...

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Ever heard of Godwin’s law?

It’s an Internet adage that asserts that as a discussion grows longer, regardless of topic, the probability of a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler rears its ugly head.

In some cases, it makes sense. In others, much less so.

France is in the midst of a very heated discussion – to say the least – regarding pension reforms and President Macron ’s controversial use of a constitutional clause (49.3) to bypass a vote regarding the bill. The protests have brought the country to its knees, and artists, as well as protestors, have tapped into the situation to bring out their creative streaks.

However, one artwork has sparked controversy.

The image in question is a fresco created last weekend (Sunday 2 April) in the south-eastern city of Avignon. The new mural by graffiti artist Lekto depicts Emmanuel Macron as Hitler, with the inscription "49.3" replacing Hitler’s characteristic toothbrush moustache.

The fresco is accompanied by a "No thank you", to which has been added below: "Si jamais... Peinture satyrique" (“Just in case… Satirical painting”).

Dauphin Philippe / LA PROVENCE
Lekto's recent muralDauphin Philippe / LA PROVENCE

The city of Avignon has already announced that the fresco will be "erased as soon as possible" and many have condemned the reductive and dangerous false-equivalences.

The journalist Anne Sinclair was indignant, considering the fresco "abject" and Isabelle Rome, the Minister for Equal Opportunities, reacted on Twitter by asking "What are we talking about here?" and saying that the drawing "makes me nauseous". On the opposite side of the debate, Manuel Bompard, coordinator of France Insoumise, defended the "right to caricature."

Lekto is fast becoming something of a nuisance for French authorities – especially because this isn’t the artist's first brush with controversy…

Who is Lekto and why is he already being prosecuted?

It’s tough to know who is behind the Lekto pseudonym, since the artist remains discreet, refusing to respond to media requests.

Lekto’s Instagram account, created in August 2020, suggests that they could be a young graffiti artist, and some have speculated that they’re a former graduate of the Avignon art school, considering the artworks keep popping up in the region.

A further visit to Lekto’s Instagram page reveals other murals of dubious political inspiration and that the pandemic and sanitary restrictions seem to have inspired the artist, who is largely conspiracy-minded and anti-government.

The recent Hitler-Macron artwork is located in the same place as another painting which caused outcry and got the graffiti artist into a spot of bother last summer. A previous artwork by Lekto, made in June 2022, represented Emmanuel Macron as Pinocchio, manipulated by puppeteer Jacques Attali, the French economic and social theorist.

Subtitled "La bête 2 l'événement", a reference to the Apocalypse in conspiracy spheres, the painting was erased after having caused a stir on social networks for its strong anti-Semitic overtones and fascist iconography. Indeed, the symbolism of the puppeteer controlling the world from behind the scenes, as well as the formal dress and white gloves, ticked a lot of boxes regarding classic anti-Semitic iconography.

The artist was immediately singled out by the Jewish Defence League and the Union of Jewish Students of France. The Jewish Defence League explained that anti-Semitic symbols were indeed present: "The Jewish and influential personality (here Jacques Attali), the worrying look and the hands that operate puppets to make it clear that the Jews rule the world.”

Jacques Attali's lawyer, Cyril Bonan, stated last year that the fresco "repeats all the anti-Semitic codes of the beginning of the century."

The Vaucluse prefect asked for the fresco to be erased, while the Greater Avignon urban community and the town hall tried to defend the graffiti by invoking freedom of expression. Finally, the work was covered up on 24 June.

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Lekto is being prosecuted before the criminal court for public insult on the grounds of origin, ethnicity, nation, race or religion, but also public incitement to discrimination. Their trial, which has already been postponed three times, will be held on 14 September.

It remains to be seen when the recent Hitler-Macron artwork will be erased and whether further people will come to the graffiti artist’s defence, either embracing the "satirical painting" inscription or failing to recognize the intellectually barren tendency to shout ‘Nazi’ at anything one doesn't like the look of.

Additional sources • France Bleu, La Provence

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