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'Libres et égales': Portraits Celebrate Women on Promenade des Anglais

The new 28-portrait exhibition, unveiled on International Women's Day, is a collaboration between French photographer Sylvia Galmot and the City of Nice.

'Libres et égales' portrait exhibition on the Promenade des Anglais, opposite Palais de la Mediterranée © Ville de Nice

Walking along the Promenade des Anglais, you can’t miss the new display of black-and-white portraits of women affixed to the walls of the pergola opposite the Palais de la Mediterranée. The exhibition is the joint work of Sylvia Galmot, photographer and feminist, and the City of Nice. Galmot has worked for the most prestigious agencies in Paris for the last ten years, photographing numerous celebrities such as Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux and Mélanie Thierry, and now she brings her appreciation and admiration for women to this iconic location on the Côte d’Azur.

Entitled ‘Libres et égales’ (‘Free and equal’), the exhibition was unveiled on 8th March for International Women’s Day, in conjunction with the City of Nice and the Métropole Nice Côte d'Azur, and will remain until June. It comprises 28 portraits of French women from a range of backgrounds, including a lawyer, a journalist and a community worker, dressed in their own style and photographed in timeless black-and-white, their personality and individuality shining through the monochrome. The number 28 is symbolic of a woman’s menstruation cycle, with a portrait to represent each day.

Maty Diouf, Sylvia Galmot, Laura Tenoudji and Christian Etroisi unveil the exhibition ©BestImage for Ville de Nice

The 11 Niçoises featured “represent the work of locals every day for women’s rights and dignity”, says Maty Diouf, MP for women’s rights at the Nice Mayor’s Office, who helped bring the project to fruition with French journalist Laura Tenoudji. Moreover, Maty Diouf comments on the significance of its location on the Promenade des Anglais, explaining the exhibition’s placement as “the window into the city and a nod of support and solidarity to the women on the other side of the Mediterranean”.

Photographer Sylvia Galmot agrees that the location of the exhibition was extremely important, saying her aim was to represent a diverse range of women so that every female viewer could identify with one of her subjects. “I devised and dreamt up ‘Libres et égales’ so as to be accessible to everyone. The exhibition needed to be outdoors to be useful, to be able to move anyone and give them confidence. I want everyone to be able to identify with the portraits and to feel united, accepted and secure about their futures.”

The black-and-white portraits stand out against the turquoise Mediterranean © Ville de Nice

A portrait of photographer Sylvia Galmot herself features at the head of the collection, along with a clear-cut proclamation of female strength and empowerment: ‘Nous sommes là, libres et égales’ (‘We’re here, free and equal’). The title of the exhibition could also encompass a subtle double entendre, referring back to the French national motto, ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ – while deliberately omitting the final concept, whose problematic masculine essence and etymology (from the Latin ‘frater’, meaning brother) could be said to preclude women in the ideal of French society. Indeed, it was the emphasis on ‘Fraternité’ during the French Revolution that led feminist activist Olympe de Gouges to write the Declaration of the Rights of the Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791.

Sylvia Galmot's portrait concludes the exhibition ©BestImage for Ville de Nice

As well as empowerment, Galmot hopes her exhibition imparts female viewers with hope. “Feminists fought for our rights. And art gave them the means to express their opinions. It’s through art that I wanted to bring a message of hope and support to all women who are still oppressed. For them, the most important thing is to remember that there’s still a problem; that they can and should break their silence; that they have the right to be heard, believed and protected. The right to just exist. The right to dare to move from fear to respect, from the shadow to the light. I dedicate this exhibition to all women and men who respect women.”

So, if you haven’t already, it might be worth stopping on your afternoon walk at the pergola of portraits and reading about the diverse and inspirational women of France: maybe you too will discover a newfound spirit of confidence, creativity and community.

- Georgina Findlay

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