Sunday 28 March 2010

Who Owns the Zoo?

It's like a jungle out there - or is it a zoo? Look across parts of the 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements and you will see Zoo or Belleville Zoo written on the walls, including a monumental example at its heart in the Forge de Belleville, but who uses the name, and what does it refer to?

The first to use this term were groups of kids in the area. Although they are not a gang as such, the tag markers are certainly territorial. It is easy to plot the limits of their zone by following the very basic tags, often written in felt-tip pen or chalk, across the area. If the tags are not marker enough, this website makes it even clearer; Ramponeau, Rue Piat, Rebeval, l'Orillon, the social housing projects in Belleville. This is a territory they rarely leave, so perhaps it is this sentiment of being caged and confined in a particular sector of the city which has lead to them labelling it as a zoo.

But can you own a tag or a name? In July 2009, a collective of several artists working together produced a monumental fresque at la Forge de Belleville. The day was documented here, and therefore we know who put this up and why. No mention is made of the history, of the groups of kids who already use the term. For this collective, Belleville Zoo is "une vérité, car ici la population est métissée, hétéroclite" (the truth, because the population here is mixed and heterogeneous). They appropriated the term, but used it for different reasons. Sitting above these giant letters are a gorilla and an elephant, a comic book celebration of the vibrancy of the area.

The local kids who live alongside this creation do not seem to mind that Belleville Zoo has been used by someone else. In fact they are probably happy to see their territory identified so clearly.

Also in La Forge de Belleville, and at several other locations around the east of Paris you can find examples of the most mysterious zoo of all - Zoo Project. The artist (or artists) behind these creations has never been identified, and the only communication made is through the paintings.

The creations are always large, always painted and almost always in black and white. The name was almost certainly chosen to describe the pictures which are often human bodies with bird or goat heads. The fact that many of these creations can be found within the boundaries of the Belleville Zoo seems to be a happy accident. (Many more Zoo Project creations can be seen here).

So who does own the zoo? Nobody of course! Belleville is the city melting pot, shared by all its inhabitants, but how much interaction is there really between the different populations? Perhaps the zoo is just the individual, invisible cages we all have.


Owen said...

I think the whole world is our zoo... the only problem is the zookeepers left, and let all the animals out of their cages...

Great post on the project though... a zoo within the greater zoo...

PeterParis said...

One can perhaps dream of a zoo without the cages?

Celine in paris said...

what a coincidence! I went for a walk this weekend in the 20eme and saw so many of those pieces from zoo project and today I read about it on your blog and on this one:

Louis said...

If you could find out who published the "zoo-lache-les-animaux" post, you could find out the author of Zoo Project works, since the former was clearly within the construction site where the artist added his newest creation a week ago Sunday. I know, because I watched the artist from Place Freyel. (Adding to Celine's coincidence, it's funny that we both posted recently about Zoo Project, even if the posts covered different pieces - see

Starman said...

I think Owen has the right perspective.

Cergie said...

Notre fils m'a envoyé samedi dernier une photo du pignon de l'immeuble en travaux qui jouxte le... 58 rue de Belleville ; et justement si tu vas voir (mais sans doute que tu as déjà vu) tu reconnaitras cette signature :

Et sous un dessin un message :

J'ai hurlé des mots
J'ai crié sur tous les toits
Société, tu m'auras pas. Zoo"

PhotoGraff Collectif said...

merci pr le lien,
je crois pas qu'il y ait initialement de lien entre zoo project et belleville zoo, il a commencé dans le 93 avant de venir ds le nord est de paris, ms c la meme idée!
thias pgc

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