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Commemoration of the abolition of slavery: the Clarisse statue by Haitian artist Philippo unveiled in France

  • May 10, 2024
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On the occasion of the commemoration of the abolition of slavery which took place in La Rochelle, this Friday, May 10, the statue of the Haitian artist Woodly Caymitte, entitled “Clarisse, slave nurse”, was inaugurated in the presence of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Jean-Marc Ayrault, president of the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery.

Erected on the seafront, along the Allée Aimé Césaire, this monumental work, two meters high, made of bronze, was commissioned by the city of La Rochelle in memory of the black women who were slaves and the slave past of the city.

I wanted to address here what few history books talk about, the view of slave women as nurturers,” the artist told the city of La Rochelle.

Clarissa, wet nurse and freed slavery

The statue represents a black woman, poorly dressed, breast-feeding a little white boy, visibly chubby and healthy. At his feet, his crying son seems to be asking for his mother.

To create this sculpture, Woodly Caymitte, alias Filipo, was inspired by the story of a former slave named “Clarisse”. According to the city of La Rochelle, Clarisse was bought in Léogâne, a city in Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti) and brought to La Rochelle by her master. Indeed, at that time, wet nurses were chosen from young slave women who had become mothers and were breastfeeding.

In 1793, after having requested the General Council of the commune, Clarisse was finally declared “in the name of the Law” as “an entirely free citizen”, enjoying “the same rights as citizens of the French Republic”.

This decision followed the abolition of slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue the same year, which in 1804 proclaimed its independence before taking the name Haiti.

Concerning the other French colonies, if the national convention attempted to abolish slavery for the first time in 1794, Napoleon Bonaparte reestablished it eight years later in 1802. It was finally necessary to wait until 1848 for France to definitively abolish slavery in all its colonies.

A memory cast in bronze

For several years, the city of La Rochelle has questioned its colonial past and tried, through various actions, to fulfill its duty of memory. In 1982, she inaugurated the Musée du Nouveau Monde, the first museum dedicated to the slave trade and slavery in the colonies.

Among its collections is also the portrait of a child, Marie-Anne Grellier sitting on the knees of her black nanny. A part of French colonial history that Filipo also highlights through the sculpture of Clarisse.

“For me, Clarisse represents the women who suffered during the slavery era. It is a sculpture which represents, for me, a force,” the artist told France 3 Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

For Jean-François Fountain, mayor of La Rochelle, interviewed by France Bleu La Rochelle, “it seemed natural that this statue was made by a Haitian artist. And when you finance a work of this nature, I prefer that the money goes to a Haitian family.”

Throughout the month of May, the city of La Rochelle organizes open stages, exhibitions and conferences as part of the “Month of Memories”.


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Gazette Haiti