On January 27 two self confessed white supremacists will stand trial for criminal damage. The pair of students are alleged to be behind the attack on the Victor Hugo statue. The statue stands in Hugo`s home town of Besancon in Eastern France. It was created in 2003 by the Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, but was restored in November last year.
The restoration is at the centre of the controversy, and some say provoked the crime. The restored artwork was commissioned by the local council. Besancon council is an overtly left-wing administration. The values promoted by the leadership have clashed with elements of the populace who possess a more culturally conservative outlook.
The council`s restorers were accused of deliberately blackening Hugo`s face. This raised ire and reawakened old grievances, and ultimately spurred the two accused men to commit their crime. The two, named as Theo and Etienne threw white paint over the sculpture and attached a sign that read “white power”.
There is a bitter irony behind this entire saga. Hugo himself was a fierce critic of French colonialism and bemoaned the actions of his countrymen in Algeria. His life’s work was dedicated to restoring the dignity of all human beings. However, the supposed race conscious motives of the council in restoring the statue are just as crass and misguided. The original work was an accurate depiction of the late author, and the sculptor, who died in 2016 did not intend to create an image of a black man. It is extremely patronising to assume that a black artist can only depict other black people in their work.
Nevertheless this impending court case has opened up a necessary conversation about the universal function of art, whether it is literature or sculpture, or any other creative representation of the human experience. It is perfectly reasonable to make the case that human consciousness is the same wherever you are in the world, whether that is Africa or Europe, or any other continent on Earth.
Unfortunately bad actors in politics, both right and left have conspired to distort this view. This is a relatively modern phenomenon. It is a dramatic departure from Enlightenment philosophy which openly declares that all men and women are equal from birth. This was a given until 2020 when a nefarious and shady outfit called BLM exploited the tragedy of George Floyd to stoke an unnecessary culture war, and in turn provoke a puerile campaign to “decolonise” any artistic or intellectual endeavour.
The writer and journalist Graham Hancock has pondered the nebulous concept of human consciousness for many years. His tireless quest to prove that all human minds think alike has meant that he has received abuse and condemnation from academics, scientists and cultural commentators. The very fact that he has continued to pursue his own inquiry proves that he has more determination and courage than his detractors who are simply defending their tenure and reputation, and lucrative source of income.
Hancock was a correspondent for The Economist and had written extensively from the frontline of Ethiopia`s vicious and bloody civil war. Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian civilisations outside of Israel so it was perplexing for him to witness a once homogeneous and peaceful culture descend into barbarity. His beloved father also endured a painful battle with cancer. These two experiences motivated him to forge his own investigation into why modern man felt compelled to express himself through art, and question his unique place on this planet.
Hancock also argues that religious belief is not just a quirk of a more primitive phase of human development, it is a sign of a sophisticated species more attuned to the natural world. The latter part of Hancock`s writing career has been devoted to proving the maxim that the human brain is objectively the same, and this is manifested in the art that has been created throughout the world.
The criticism that he has received is not justified because his detractors have a purely materialist perspective, and negate the importance of mystic or shamanistic experiences of the world. Predictably, these same critics scoff at such interpretations, but this is arrogant and reveals a distinct lack of imagination. The dull philistines who propagate this brutally utilitarian and materialist view of the world ignore how much of human civilization owes to the magical thinking of the seers and prophets. They have shaped our world and inspired the sublime works of art that still provoke and inspire.