“Solitude” became a symbol of the resistance of slaves in Guadeloupe.
Paris — Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo inaugurated the Solitude Garden on Saturday, a city garden dedicated to a Black woman and anti-slavery heroine from the former French colony Guadeloupe. It will be the first statue of a Black woman in Paris, which does not represent an allegory but is truly the celebration of an exemplary figure.
According to the Paris city hall, the move is a continuation of the mayor’s push for more representation of women in public spaces.
Born around 1772, Solitude was the daughter of an African slave and a white sailor who became a symbol of the resistance of slaves in Guadeloupe. When a French expedition landed in the colony on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte to reestablish slavery, which had been abolished in 1794, former slaves rebelled. Among them, many women, including Solitude, who was a few months pregnant, joined the fighting. After the insurgents were defeated, Solitude was arrested and condemned to death.
On Nov. 29, 1802, the day after she gave birth, Solitude was executed by hanging. The Black citizens of Guadeloupe once again became slaves, but Solitude, through her sacrifice, remains the symbol of Guadeloupe’s resistance to slavery.
The small garden in the 17th arrondissement of the French capital was chosen on purpose. It is where nearly 80 years ago a sculpture of General Alexandre Dumas, one of the highest ranking men of African descent to lead a European army, stood and was melted by Nazis when they occupied Paris.
The Black Lives Matter protests which followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have had deep echoes across the pond in recent months, inviting large demonstrations against police brutality in France and elsewhere in Europe. Protesters in Paris used slogans and chants from the U.S. and in Bristol, protesters pulled down a 17th century slave-trader’s statue of Edward Colston.
French President Emmanuel Macron had expressed his disapproval, and has been vocal in his refusal to unbolt statues in France.
For Jacques Martial, this is a different way to deal with the issue of controversial statues and how to tell history differently. The statue of Solitude will help “repair an oversight and something that history has forgotten,” he said. “The issue is not to unbolt the statues but to know the history in its positive aspects as well as its shadows. Rather than breaking or unbolting, add presences in public spaces that tell history.”