Friday, August 14, 2009

Cultural Activism to Le Max: Impératif Français

Sometimes it can feel as though nobody cares about what goes on in our nation's museums, as long as ticket sales are up. And then sometimes it can feel like people are almost obsessively engaged with specific museum issues.

The organization Impératif Français would seem to fall into the latter category--in ways that range from impressive to peculiar, depending on the viewer.

The group came to my attention via a CBC story, published yesterday, about Impératif Français objecting to "the display of an 18th-century French coat of arms at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa." The group is requesting that the coat of arms be returned to Quebec City, where the only other coat of arms of its kind is kept at Quebec City's Museum of Civilization. Both coats of arms were "sculpted by Noël Levasseur in 1725."

This level of artifact-directed protest is unusual in Canada--we saw it or still see it around issues of First Nations artifacts, with the Glenbow Museum doing the right thing and returning sacred objects to the Blackfoot in 2000, and with the government of Alberta repatriating objects and sacred bundles to First Nations people just this summer. But seeing it around Franco-Canadian history is less prevalent.

The artifact passion exemplified by Impératif Français prompted me to visit their website, where I realized their interest is not simply in museums--two years ago they prompted the National Capital Commission to alter the text in a public exhibition panel in Ottawa, which is interesting.

But there's also some wackier aspects to this group's cultural activism. When Michael Jackson died, for instance, they issued a statement to the effect that Jackson's popularity was just another example of the crushing effect that the anglo-saxon hegemony was having on global youth. (trans. mine) The also express irritation with the expansion of mattress chain Sleep Country Canada into Quebec, since it expresses little respect for Quebec culture by keeping its Anglo name.

I guess this is one of those contexts where the value of a cultural watchdog group has to be taken on a case by case basis!

Image of the coat of arms in situ at the War Museum from

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