G is for Guilt

G is for Guilt

In March 2019, I travelled to France to meet Marika. Surprisingly for me, she was dealing loneliness and feelings of guilt, while staying in Paris. “I have just been living… the life you know. I’ve gone to the events, and met people… but everything is just so damn social. It is hard you know.” Marika was feeling shame over being white, privileged “artist in Paris”. Seeing the homeless population in the city of love had awakened in her a sense of responsibility and solidarity. Marika’s mixed feelings got me thinking, how seldom artists share their worries or negative experiences from their residency period. The residencies are reportedly largely positive experiences for artists, but there has to be different experiences too, especially if it’s a long term residency. But how and where could you tell about your insecurity and anxiety? You are being offered a unique opportunity to become an in-residency artist and therefore you’re supposed to be motivated, productive and grateful. At the same time, the fellow artists around you expect you to be happy, social and potential for future collaboration. You don’t want to let people down.

Many who depict Paris in entertainment continue to propagate a myth that all the city’s inhabitants sit around drinking Dom Perignon, eating Ladurée macarons and gazing out their bedroom window at the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. But there is another kind of Paris. There were dozens of rough sleepers living permanently right outside the residency building and sometimes, the artist community provided them with a dinner and a conversation. They were not allowed to bring the people in, so they carried the tables out and invited the homeless people to eat with them. Marika reminisces about a certain man with whom she had a talk with during one meal. He had been living on the streets for years and was too embarrassed and degraded to meet his children again. Last winter, at least 3,000 people were thought to be living on the streets of Paris, more than half of whom are believed to have been born outside of France.

The homeless population of Paris is not evenly spread out. The 18th and 19th arrondissements have seen their number of street-sleepers grow by 70% and 50% over the last year, in the main due to migrant camps. The 10th arrondissement has the lowest number of homeless people. Marika Maijala was staying at the Cité internationale des arts, which is located in the 4° arrondissement.

Marika’s own favourite work in the exhibition is Mademoiselle (A Guilty Self-Portrait In Front of Colonial Wallpaper), a work that has been inspired by her personal “Paris Syndrome” experiences. It is an effortless looking watercolor painting that doesn’t represent her typical style. Despite of its importance, or exactly because of that, the work is not presented in the first room of the exhibition, but in a more intimate space in the “Back Room”. It is not a private chamber, but still well out of the public eye, when one arrives to the exhibition. In contrast to the vivid and verdant installation in the first room, here we find more subtle collection of works. Hung on the same wall with the self-portrait, are the decorative maps showing Paris districts (arrondissements) with famous monuments, tourist attractions and symbols of national pride, drawn by Maria Herreros. The arrangement of delicate watercolors is light and airy. The serious looking girl in the portrait is silent and still.

Marika Maijala, Mademoiselle (A Guilty Self-Portrait In Front of Colonial Wallpaper), Watercolor on paper, 2019

For further reading:

Seismopolite Journal of Art and Politics The articles in issues #18 and #19

Susanne Muchnic: What’s in the Back Room? Los Angeles Times, Aug 2, 1998

In numbers: How the homeless population of Paris is growing. The Local, March 3, 2019

Those Clichés About Parisians – Blog Paris Attitude


To see in the exhibition:

Marika Maijala, Mademoiselle (A Guilty Self-Portrait In Front of Colonial Wallpaper), Watercolor on paper, 2019

Maria Herreros: Ladurée macarons I, original illustration from the book Paris Sera Toujours Paris, 2018

Maria Herreros: Ladurée macarons II, original illustration from the book Paris Sera Toujours Paris, 2018


Cover image: Marika Maijala, In Thoughts / (Detail) Watercolor on paper, 2019. Not on view.