Contemporary French Civilization

(Post)-colonial persistence: the presence of the "Black Venus" in the work of Warnauts and Raives

Contemporary French Civilization (2011), 36, (3), 287–302.

Abstract

Although largely absent from pre-1939 comic strips depicting imperial conquest, the woman of non-European origin has finally found, to an albeit limited extent, a place in the bande dessinée following the emergence of Francophone post-colonial BDs in the late 1970s. However, this delayed arrival within the frames of the "ninth art" has not rendered the post-colonial woman entirely immune to the established pictorial tropes first used to depict the female colonized subject in the publications of the French and Belgian imperialist era, with a level of pictorial similarity to the colonial sexualized "Black Venus" figure to be found in some female characters of the late-twentieth-century post-colonial BD. This article takes as case studies two such works by the Belgian creative team Warnauts and Raives – Equatoriales (1994) and Lettres D'Outremer (1996) – in order to examine the representation of women of colonial origin within the texts. Focusing predominantly on the creators' manipulation of color and mise-en-page, the devices used within the texts to "other" the (post)-colonial women, heightening their exoticized and sexualized representation, will be considered with a view to enunciating the links between this eroticized representation of the modern black woman and the colonial "Black Venus" stereotype.

La femme d'origine non-européenne, quoique absente de la majorité des bandes dessinées produites avant la seconde guerre mondiale, a enfin trouvé une place limitée dans l'art séquentiel avec l'apparition des BDs francophones post-coloniales à la fin des années 1970. Cependant, cette arrivée tardive dans les cases du "neuvième art" n'a pas mis la femme post-coloniale à l'abri des tropes graphiques établis et utilisés pour la première fois dans les publications de l'ère impérialiste francobelge pour représenter le sujet colonial, avec un niveau de similarité graphique à la figure coloniale et sexualisée de la "Vénus noire" trouvée dans quelques personnages féminins de la BD post-coloniale de la fin du XXème siècle. Cet article prend comme étude deux de ces travaux réalisés par l'équipe créative belge Warnauts et Raives – Equatoriales (1994) et Lettres d'Outremer (1996) – pour examiner la représentation de la femme d'origine coloniale dans ces textes. Les moyens utilisés, par les créateurs, de la couleur et de la mise-en-page dans les textes pour rendre la femme (post-)coloniale "autre" en intensifiant sa représentation érotique et exotique, seront étudiés pour montrer les liens entre cette représentation érotisée de la femme moderne noire et le stéréotype colonial de la "Vénus noire."

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Crépin, Thierry, and Thierry Groensteen. "On tue à chaque page": La Loi de 1949 sur les publications destinées à la jeunesse. Paris: Editions du Temps, 1999. "On tue à chaque page": La Loi de 1949 sur les publications destinées à la jeunesse Google Scholar

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Jones, Janine. "Tongue Smell Color black." Ed. George Yancy. White on White/Black on Black. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. 217–232. Tongue Smell Color black White on White/Black on Black Google Scholar

Lefèvre, Pascal. "The Congo Drawn in Belgium." History and Politics in French-Language Comics and Graphic Novels. Ed. Mark McKinney. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2008. 166–185. History and Politics in French-Language Comics and Graphic Novels 166 185 Google Scholar

McKinney, Mark. "Métissage in Post-Colonial Comics." Post-Colonial Cultures in France. Ed. Alec Hargreaves and Mark McKinney. London: Routledge, 1997. 169–189. Post-Colonial Cultures in France 169 189 Google Scholar

McKinney, Mark. "The Representation of Ethnic Minority Women in Comic Books." Women, Immigration and Identities in France. Ed. Jane Freedman and Carrie Tarr. Oxford: Berg, 2000. 85–102. The Representation of Ethnic Minority Women in Comic Books Women, Immigration and Identities in France 85 102 Google Scholar

Mitter, Partha. "The Hottentot Venus and Western Man: Reflections on the Construction of Beauty in the West." Cultural Encounters: Representing Otherness. Ed. Elizabeth Hallam and Brian V. Street. London: Routledge, 2000. 35–50. The Hottentot Venus and Western Man: Reflections on the Construction of Beauty in the West Cultural Encounters: Representing Otherness 35 50 Google Scholar

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. White on Black. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. White on Black Google Scholar

Schmid, Susanne. "Black Venus" –Jeanne Duval and Charles Baudelaire Revisited by Angela Carter. Web. > http://webdoc.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic97/schmid/2_97.html Google Scholar

Sharpley-Whiting, Tracy Denean. Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears and Primitive Narratives in French. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears and Primitive Narratives in French Google Scholar

Warnauts, Eric, and Raives. Equatoriales. Paris: Casterman, 1994. Equatoriales Google Scholar

Warnauts, Eric, and Raives. Lettres D'Outremer. Paris: Casterman, 1996. Lettres D'Outremer Google Scholar

Williams, Carla, and Deborah Willis. The Black Female Body: A Photographic History. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2002. The Black Female Body: A Photographic History Google Scholar

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MacLeod, Catriona