After weeks of growing outcry on French social media and an especially heated weekend as it hit the national press, the Angoulême International Comics Festival has reached a decision on the controversial Bastien Vivès exhibition – citing threats of physical violence, the Festival has said it is no longer going ahead.
Although the Festival had previously seen itself as holding the line for freedom of creativity and expression, in a statement released today, they stated that “new developments have radically changed the nature of this situation and have made it necessary for the Festival to cancel this exhibition”, namely that threats of physical violence were being made toward the Festival team, the artist and festival attendees.
The Festival added:
“It is therefore not acceptable for the event to consider that its programming could put an author and, potentially, in a few weeks, its festival-goers at such risk. Other precedents demonstrate this. In addition, the intimidation of members of the Festival team have become apparent.
“It is now up to the appropriate authorities to deal with the situation.”
It doesn’t wholly let Vivès off the hook however – while protecting his right to produce whatever he wants within the law – it also points out that he will still need to explain various of his more controversial comments he has made in the past which the Festival was unaware of prior to announcing the exhibition:
“Bastien Vivès has made various comments – spread out over the years – which may seem to some people to be very shocking and/or inappropriate: the Festival was not initially aware of many of them. In view of the situation, it is up to the author to explain, in the manner he deems appropriate, their meaning, their reason for being and to specify the circumstances in which they were expressed.”
The exhibition was announced November 28. “From the Eyes of Bastien Vivès“ (“Dans les yeux de Bastien Vivès”), as it was to be called, was offering the artist carte blanche to produce and design an exhibition of wholly original artwork that was to debut at the late January Angoulême Festival and run until March 12. Shortly following the announcement there was a growing outcry on social media which peaked late last week into two petitions demanding its removal and the controversy spreading into the French press.
Vivès has produced critically acclaimed work in the mainstream including the award-winning Polina and the Lastman series but he also has published extremely controversial work – such as Petit Paul – which many have accused of being akin to child pornography and promoting incest. While none have been deemed illegal under French law, the public clearly remains embittered. Of the two petitions launched late last week, one has surpassed 100,000 signatures. [For an in depth look at the controversy, see here].
The full statement of the Angoulême festival [translated via DeepL]:
“ABOUT THE SITUATION CONCERNING THE AUTHOR BASTIEN VIVÈS
“The International Comics Festival of Angoulême has recently announced the programming of an exhibition dedicated to Bastien Vivès’.
“This announcement has caused, during the last few days, numerous comments from Internet users. Some of them are defamatory towards the author concerned and the Festival, others, measured and argued, show sensitivity and concern for the cause of children and women, among those who are at the heart of it. These are the ones that the Festival wanted and wants to hear. For this reason, it undertook to consult with its partners in order to consider a position that would take them into account.
“Within this short space of time, new developments have radically changed the nature of this situation and have made it necessary for the Festival to cancel this exhibition.
“For example, physical threats have been made against Bastien Vivès. It is therefore not acceptable for the event to consider that its programming could put an author and, potentially, in a few weeks, its festival-goers at such risk. Other precedents demonstrate this. In addition, the intimidation of members of the Festival team have become apparent.
“It is now up to the appropriate authorities to deal with the situation.
“The Festival would like to make the following points clear in this context:
- The exhibition it had planned to devote to Bastien Vivès was based on the display of original, unpublished creations and not – as many fanciful comments have suggested – on content taken from his work (the press kit sent to journalists on November 28 attests to this).
- The Festival considers that the work of Bastien Vivès, as a whole, falls within the scope of freedom of expression and that it is up to the law to draw the boundaries in this area and to the justice system to enforce them. The Festival recalls in this regard, that to its knowledge, the author, currently incriminated on social networks, has not been subject to any legal complaint of any kind. It also underlines that several works of Bastien Vivès have been and will be the subject of adaptations of various kinds – in the cinematic world, on platforms, in the form of animation series … – by different artists and that many prizes have been awarded to him for years by all kinds of juries.
“In this respect, the debate at stake concerns questions as old as art. Those relating to the freedom of expression and creativity, to the responsibility of the artists, to the necessary social changes, to morality, to the barriers between fiction and reality, to censorship, and to self-censorship. So many questions that permanently cross an event like the Festival, involving very diverse audiences – families, children, teachers, educators … – and whose vocation is also that of putting forward the creations of artists questioning our societies.
“It is essential that this debate be conducted in a calm atmosphere. The Festival will lead it during its development via its treatment in the framework of a prospective forum – where it will not fail to invite some of the Internet users who are stakeholders and who have recently expressed themselves by asking questions.
“Bastien Vivès has made various comments – spread out over the years – which may seem to some people to be very shocking and/or inappropriate: the Festival was not initially aware of many of them. In view of the situation, it is up to the author to explain, in the manner he deems appropriate, their meaning, their reason for being and to specify the circumstances in which they were expressed.
“The Festival hopes that its annual event will contribute to bringing peace to a situation that now requires it, and hopes that invective and threats will be replaced by debate.
“The Festival recalls that its mission, since its inception, has been to be a space for dialogue and that culture is an essential factor in bringing together citizens of the world.”