During the puente, I visited family in Paris and maximized my time in order to stay there for a week. It is needless to say that Paris is stunning and there are so many wonderful sights and fun experiences to be had, especially when you have a full week to enjoy them. One of the most memorable things I experienced was visiting the Le Modèle Noir (The Black Model) exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay.
Seeing that the exhibition’s purpose is to feature paintings of black and brown models, I thought about not going because I figured I would see something similar to other exhibitions with the same theme that I have seen in the past, most of which did a great job of fetishizing and tokenizing black and brown models. Seeing that there was no line to get in (which was a miracle given there’s lines everywhere in Paris) I went inside and was pleasantly surprised.
From the very beginning, the exhibition acknowledged the history of slavery, the erasure of black and brown identities, the harmful stereotypes attached to these races, and the lack of recognition in history. Additionally, extensive research was done in order to identify the models by name, and some of the painting descriptions would feature the original title of the painting and the name of the model and whatever history was found on that person. The museum was very explicit about their intention to honor the models in the paintings and photos, and mentioned it was hard to find information on all of them so unfortunately some paintings remained nameless.
I had never seen a museum do this before and I found that this museum did it beautifully. This was particularly impactful to me because in one of my program classes we discussed El Museo de America and how it has no recognition of the history of the artifacts making it really insulting for Latin Americans and the former colonies that Spain held hostage for many years. I think this exhibition should be an example to many other museums that it is important to acknowledge history and recognize everyone’s contributions to it – not just the white contributions, but the black and brown ones as well. There is more power in acknowledging the dark parts of a country’s history and moving forward than to ignore them all together, and all I could think of was how my time in Spain has taught me that this is something Spanish society has not yet been able to do, but really should.