Francois Piquet

 

White Creole Conversations Menu

APPETISERS

1. State your name, age and profession.

Francois Piquet, 47, artist and independent worker.

 

2. How do you define yourself in terms of race, class and nationality? Do you identify with the term ‘white Creole’? How far back can you trace your family on maternal/paternal lines?

I am a redheaded, white, low middle class, French man. I am not a "white creole," however I intend to experiment with "creolisation."

I was born and raised in France. My family comes from different regions of middle France, but I can't trace it further than my great grandparents (who were farmhands and housemaids) - and I have never asked for it. I don't know my family well, as my parents moved to Paris' suburb, and divorced when I was five.

 

3. Do you find yourself thinking about whiteness or race in general? Why/why not?

As I have been living in Guadeloupe FWI for 15 years now, dealing with race or whiteness is unavoidable, it's almost an everyday exercise. I am conscious of being seen as white. When I lived in Paris, in very cosmopolitan areas with many emigrated people, I thought I was used to living in a multiracial environment.

But when you don't belong to the majority anymore, it is totally different: the social space is not yours, you have to ask for it. And to face also your own behaviours, and ask yourself: why did I react like this? Am I racist? What are the cultural and inherited frames I have to unlearn?

 

4. Can you talk about what it feels like to live as a white person in the Caribbean? Would you say that your local space operates as a racially ordered society, constituted by segments of society that have little or no organic inter-relation or is it an integrated space? Or, is it simultaneously both but in different areas of your life?

Before 1948, Guadeloupe was a French colony. During the childhood of the older people I meet (who are in the same age-group as my parents), the white people were another kind of citizen, with different rights. It is easy to understand that the Guadeloupean society is deeply racialised, and at the same time a very young society, evolving quickly. So it is very complex and moving, with old and modern schemes of a racially ordered society, a strong anti-racism will, and also very mixed areas, especially for the young people. I can't imagine that this mixing will not increase.

 

5. Did you grow up in a family that discussed race or did you inherit ideas about race or whiteness in your family and social circle? Were those inherited ideas implicitly conveyed or explicitly stated, and have those ideas shifted generationally? If you have children, do you discuss race or whiteness – why and how?


I was obviously influenced by the latent cultural racism of the 1960/70's French society, but I was raised in my family with the principle that all human beings are or shall be equals.

I remember my grandmother telling us about her first sight of a black man, when she was a kid during the first world war, saying also "they were poor guys like us."

My mother told me that when I saw my younger brother for the first time, I cried a lot because he was not black like my best mate at the nursery.

As a teacher, she participated in one of the first French missions in China for its "re-opening" after the cultural revolution, and so she visited country places were the people had never seen a white person. She told us (my brother and I) how people were fascinated, touching them, their hair, their skin, some scared babies crying.

There were very few black people in the schools I was in, but more people with North-African origins (second generation of emigrate people). I strongly remember the early 80's big anti-racism movement called "touche pas à mon pote" (don't touch my mate), when almost every kid wore these coloured badges.

 

MAIN COURSES

 

6. What makes you feel that you don’t belong to your local society? Can contradictory feelings of both belonging and not belonging, be experienced at different times and in different places in your local environment?

I don't belong to any family in Guadeloupe (my wife comes from France, as I do), and family is the core of the society here (with all its events, traditions and ceremonies). Of course I have good relationships with some of my neighbours, and some Guadeloupean friends, and I have no other place to feel "at home."

I do involve myself in the society through my work, and mostly by my visual art practices, which began in Guadeloupe and are the result of my meeting with this island. But the question "Am I Guadeloupean?" is an endless debate, and the answers do vary a lot depending of the context: nice or angry moments, many or few people, financial aspects. It is hard to conceive that I could represent Guadeloupe. I am part of a minority.

 

7. Do you consciously maintain your identity as a white person? Do you hide the presence of another race in yourself? Do you ‘pass’ for white? If yes, why and how so? Are you read differently, racially, or in different contexts? Is whiteness variable?

I am conscious of being seen and educated as a white person. I am what you can call "a typical white French man," which gives very little information about myself. My identity is changing, I am not the one I used to be (I am older, for example), and whiteness is not often the predominant side of it. Guadeloupe has changed my point of view and my perspectives, it has changed what or how I do with myself. I can't conceive to be proud of something that is not the result of my actions. I can understand that one might need to be proud of his origins (especially when they are discredited). I am neither proud or shameful of having a white skin. It is just the way it is.

 

8. Can we escape race in our local space? Are we a post-racial society? Is this something we should work towards? Is it achievable?

Guadeloupe is not a post-racial society. I guess no society is yet. The goal is not to be post-racial, it is to be post-racist.

 

9. Have you ever felt that you are a prisoner of colonial history as a white person? Do you feel connected to England or the UK as an ancestral home?

Nobody chooses what he gets as personal and global inheritance. One can only try to choose what he's doing with it. I am not guilty of colonial history, but I can feel responsible as I have the ability to be: I can do more than survive, I have children, they will live in the world that we prepare to them.

 

10. Do you profess to be colour blind? Is being colour blind useful or damaging?

In some contexts, the colour of the skin is valid information, and I use it, consciously or not. But it is not dominant or masking information to me. I am not colour blind, I try to be colour free.

 

DESSERT

 

11. Do you experience privilege because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness? How so? Can you speak about the relationship between whiteness and economic, professional or social privilege? Or, can you speak about having been rejected, denied opportunity or ostracised because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness?

Of course the whiteness gives privileges in a racist society, and sometimes prejudices. When living in Paris, I was rarely controlled by the police. The owner of the house we rent in Guadeloupe, who has Indian origins, wants to avoid black lodgers. On the other side, some neighbours are very kind in private, but don't talk to me in front of the school, where all the parents are waiting for the kids.

I obviously do not match with what people expect or want to promote in terms of Caribbean art, even if my art is Caribbean-born.

 

12. Do you socialize along race or class lines or choose friends in terms of race or class? Is that conscious or sub-conscious? How do you see yourself in relation to the larger social/national/political landscape?

Guadeloupe is a small country, so I am connected to a wide range of people, in terms of class, origins and age. Much more than when I lived in a big city, where you choose the people you go around with (who like the same places and activities than you). Cultural boundaries are not easy to cross, but the intimacy level is not linked to the skin colour.

 

13. Are there stereotypes around whiteness? Have you been called names that are racially motivated? Have you experienced positive discrimination because of your whiteness / perceived whiteness?

The slave-trade area had this black & white vision: one which is not white, it's coloured. All the shades are disappearing, the stereotypes are strong, and still reinforced by the anti-discrimination struggle based on colour founded communities. Its economical and cultural power has spread these stereotypes worldly.

Caribbean countries or islands are small enough, human-size scaled societies, to be places where we can experiment with multi-racial society models, and make them successful.

 

 

Bio:

 

Francois Piquet has been living in the French West Indies for 15 years. He was born in a Paris suburb where he obtained an Industrial Design engineering degree, and simultaneously developed musical performing and graphic and multimedia design. He arrived in Guadeloupe in 2000 where he worked in professional video and developed in his first painting exhibition in 2005. He then created "Collactif", a group of urban artistic intervention, which participated in the 2007 "Reappropriation of Darboussier" (an old cane sugar factory), an art event where he braided his first monumental sculpture using iron strips used to hoop rum barrels. These first sculptures were purchased in 2008 by the Guadeloupe administrations (Museum of the cane, Memorial Act). In early 2009, he was a founding member of "Awtis 4 Chimen", an association of visual artists occupying the "L'Herminier" Museum's at Pointe-à-Pitre, and co-produced the first Salon of Contemporary Art in Guadeloupe in 2010.

 

He then presented his first solo exhibition, "IRON & SKIN" in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and installed sculptures in the streets of Marseille (France) for an artistic residency in 2011. He continues his exploration of Caribbean contemporary creation in 2012, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Sint Maarten. In 2013 and 2014, he has focused his production on public spaces, ephemeral and permanent urban interventions in Guadeloupe, Martinique and France, always with the research of Caribbean experimentation, coupled with social commitment.

 

 

 

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