The World of the Colleureuses
by Collages Féministes Marseille
The text will be commented by the political scientist Isabell Lorey and discussed by the collective Dziewuchy Berlin and the artist Tina Keserovic during the event “Local political spaces and translocal solidarity – feminist and aesthetic interventions”. Feel invited to join our online event on October 18, at 6 pm.
German and French translation see below
The birth of collages
The collage movement was born in Marseille in February 2019. The impulse came from Marguerite Stern, a feminist activist and former FEMEN. Stern decided to show her outrage at feminicides by pasting A4 sheets of paper on public walls with the victim’s first name, the date and the cause of death written on it. She drew on the awareness-raising work of the collective “Féminicides par compagnons ou ex” (“Feminicides by life partners or ex-partners”). The first use of this form of action was thus exclusively to talk about feminicides. Marguerite Stern then moved to Paris in September 2019 and continued her activities there as the movement gradually spread throughout France. She founded the collective “Collage féminicide Paris”. Already in November 2019, tensions arose in the movement due to collages supporting sex workers and transgender people – individuals criticised by Marguerite Stern. In the following, she expressed transphobic views, which led to a split within the movement. Stern decided to leave the movement in November 2019. The movement then develops outside of France.
In Marseille, the first collages led a group of friends to create their own collage-movement in September 2019 based on the principle of intersectionality. It was originally called “Collages féminicides” (Feminicide Collages), but the name was changed to “Collages féministes Marseille” (“Feminist Collages Marseille”) after a month of existence, in order to not only talk about the issue of feminicide. We decided to be a movement in which no cisgender men participate.
There is no formal connection between the different collage groups in France. Each one functions according to its own rules. This is perhaps because the activity is carried out differently depending on the specific characteristics of the city where the group is located.
How the collages work in Marseille
We are a collective without any boss or hierarchy. If one of us has an idea for a sentence to put on a collage, it is proposed in the collective and either rejected or accepted. There are different reasons why a sentence should not be accepted. If the statement is not formulated clearly enough, this can lead to a discussion about an alternative formulation. If a term is misunderstood and may cause an unwanted debate, we look together for a more appropriate word. If the proposed phrase is racist, for example, it will be rejected immediately.
We then paint our validated sentences alone or in a group, usually in black, on white A4 sheets. We then gather on the street to paste our messages. For safety reasons, we try to be at least four people – one person keeps an eye on the surroundings, the others do the sticking. The special thing about our practice is that it disappears over time. It does not damage the wall and it is enough to just wait for the collage to disappear again. Depending on the season, the collages come off at a more or less rapid rate. Since it does not lead to serious damage, this activity is hardly punished. It can be sanctioned with police custody and/or a possible fine.
The choice of location for a collage depends on various criteria. First of all, the place of residence of the people that put up the collages, so that no one has to travel three stops on the metro alone to get home. If we have already done a lot of pasting in one neighbourhood, we try to do it further out next time. If there is a specific theme, we think about whether there is a neighbourhood or a place that is particularly suitable for this theme. In Marseille, there is the difficulty that some neighbourhoods are hardly or only with difficulty accessible, in which we then paste very little, because not all of us have a car or a driving licence. We also pay attention to whether there is graffiti on the walls, which we do not paste over out of respect for the artists.
We communicate a lot on social media and especially through our Instagram channel. Apart from that, we cannot say anything else about our ways of communication for security reasons. Our collective also participates in the organisation of demonstrations in Marseille such as those on the 8th of March, to mark International Women’s Rights Day. We also take part in workshops with young people about sexism or the actionism of collages. We also continue the tradition of the “feminicide walls” where we stick the first name, age and date of death of women and persons of gender minorities killed by partners or ex-partners during the year – for example “Laura 04.02.21 34 years”. This action is intended as a tribute to raise public awareness of the problem and also to denounce government and police inaction. Sometimes requests for help from victims or attempts to file a criminal complaint are rejected by the police. They are not being protected from their attackers, which can lead to their death.
Why this action?
We paste in the streets and at night because for us – as women and members of gender minorities – it is a place synonymous with danger. On the street at night, we have to be afraid of being harassed, threatened or attacked and this feeling is usually intensified by a lack of street lighting. Pasting represents a way for us to re-appropriate these places and also to mark our territory. Our collages enable other women and members of gender minorities to feel safer and less alone when they are out in the evening or at night. They also provide a means of signalling to potential attackers that we know to defend ourselves.
The attractiveness of this means of action also lies in the broad public attention it can reach. Since the street is a public place, our messages are seen by people from different social classes, gender and age groups – they can reach practically anyone. From the woman who has been a victim of violence herself and is receiving support here, to the old, retired man who knows nothing about feminism and whom our message might make think, we are confronted with the most diverse reactions. Once, when we pasted “Have you talked to your children about consent?”, a woman asked us what “consent” meant. This gave us the opportunity to explain it to her.
The special features of Marseille
In Marseille, public space is characterised by the plurality of people, cultures, religions, social classes and political opinions. Accordingly, our actions are more or less appreciated depending on the neighbourhood we are pasting in. When we paste in affluent, middle-class or bourgeois neighbourhoods, we more often receive negative reactions because people think we are defiling their walls, while in lower-class neighbourhoods we are more often encouraged or, at worst, ignored.
In Marseille, there are other associations that use public space, such as “Cib Marseille”, a group that specialises in inline skating and gets women to dare to go to skate parks. Or “Les Déchainé.e.s” (The Unchained), a group that regularly organises group outings by bicycle and holds the so-called “Vélorution” (a play on words from vélo (bicycle) and révolution) . These are gatherings where public space is occupied by bicycles and which often explicitly take place without cis men.
The reactions to our actions
The reactions to our actions have been varied. We have been confronted with violence, some of it physical. Men – in most cases – do not agree with our actions or our messages. Once at the Old Port we pasted the phrase “laissez nos corps tranquilles” (“leave our bodies alone”) when a man approaches and then threatened us. We also received positive feedback as well as supportive reactions from men and women, especially in the course of demonstrations like the Pride parades. When we pasted “consentement même chez le médecin” (“Consent even at the doctor’s”) one evening, a man told us that he was a doctor and that we were right to paste this message. Also curiosity is expressed about the words used or about our approach.
However, other people think that we damage or dirty the city walls and may react violently. We have even been physically attacked by men for this reason. We can also observe how our collages are accepted after being put up. In more bourgeois neighbourhoods they are torn down more quickly than in lower-class neighbourhoods, or they are removed by the city administration after calls from residents.
In Marseille, there have been rather positive reactions from city administration staff. Some have discreetly expressed their support and even used the visuals from the collages. However, our collages are still being removed by the city. Last summer, we had contact with the city administration when we made a campaign on our Instagram account with testimonies about assaults with GHB in Marseille bars.
Our different struggles
The issues we deal with are diverse. First and foremost are all kinds of discrimination, as feminism is strongly intertwined with this issue. Our struggles are reflected in our slogans, like “Feminist and anti-racist Marseille” or “Topless or burkini, I decide”. Sometimes we also paste ecofeminist statements, like “Patriarchy makes the earth infertile”, or phrases about ageism (“I am old, not expired”). The issue of feminicide remains extremely important to us. We keep addressing it in form of the feminicide walls, but also in our normal collages, when we paste sentences like “One is not born a woman, but one dies of it”, “Every 48 hours a feminicide in France”, “
JEALOUSY DRAMA FEMINIZID”, or even “refused criminal charges = women killed”. We also deal with the issues of grossophobia and catcalling, for example through “My body is not TripAdvisor, you can keep your comments”, “Thinness is not a synonym for health”, “You whistle after your sister as well?” and “Leave our bodies alone”. In addition, we have supportive messages like “I believe you” that are always topical.
When it comes to sticking, we are guided by current events, whether local, national or international. For example, if there is police violence in Marseille, we see that as an issue where we can intervene publicly. We pasted when ministers were accused of rape and we pasted when those ministers were kept in the French government – “Sort your rubbish and don’t make ministers out of it”. If we have knowledge of a gynaecologist accused of rape, we organise a meeting on that. If there are no current discriminatory events, which is very rare, we have messages that are unfortunately always relevant, for example on sexism and sexual assault. Sometimes we also address those who tear down our collages and paste, for example, “The more you tear down, the more we paste!” or “You who tear down – perpetrator or accomplice?”. The list of our struggles and the themes of our collages is unfortunately endless and evolves over time.
(Translation: Fluko Meyer)
German and French translation of the text
More about the Collages Féministes Marseille
Colleureuses in other cities