France is still coming to grips with the role of feminism in May 1968

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BRANDISHING a Viet Cong flag, she stands with her torso above the crowd filling the Luxembourg Gardens. Her eyes lifted, her expression serious and confrontational, she looks like she is about to charge into the fray. Jean-Pierre Rey’s photograph of the “Marianne of ’68” was instantly recognised for its likeness to Eugène Delacroix’s famous painting of bare-breasted Liberty.

In “Icons of May ’68”, an exhibition at the National Library of France, viewers are asked to look at the photograph as something other than an allegory. The woman in the photograph was a tourist from Britain, Caroline de Bendern, with no experience of the conditions of workers and students and their ideological battle. But Ms de Bendern knew how to look good in front of the camera. A fashion model, she consciously chose the solemnity of her pose with what she described as “a professional reflex”. Men too would take on iconic status in the memory of 1968, notably with the face of Daniel Cohn-Bendit laughing at a policeman. But he never represented Liberty….Continue reading

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