Louvre Abu Dhabi "will shine out to the whole world"
Attractiveness – United Arab Emirates/inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic (excerpts)
Abu Dhabi, 8 November 2017
As I inaugurate the Louvre Abu Dhabi alongside my friend Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – whom I thank very warmly for his invitation –, a sentence comes to mind which seems to define what unites us today. That sentence is neither from your culture nor entirely from mine: it’s uttered by a character in a Russian novel, a character from Dostoyevsky who says, “beauty will save the world”. And it would be natural for me to talk to you about culture, education and civilization; but gathered here this evening, one word overshadows us: that very word, “beauty”. (…)
That’s what has brought us together to this place today – first of all because Jean Nouvel and his team have designed somewhere that will shine out to the whole world. This museum city, under the shelter of a monumental dome where light plays in myriad patterns, this city which is also an island where water glimmers and glistens, this museum composed of little houses reminiscent of Emirati villages; all this, the interlacing of inside and out, of a place that is closed and always open; all this forms a whole that is wondrous to the eye, because this infinite complexity, this architectural masterpiece, awakens deep emotions, and because something about it recalls sacred buildings throughout the world. Cher Jean Nouvel, you’ve built a temple of beauty here. (…)
We’re a country that has constantly acquired masterpieces from all over the world and built sumptuous museums, of which the Louvre is the flagship. And the idea of moving those works outside our borders sometimes strikes us as less natural, even though we do it regularly for major museum exhibitions around the world.
But this time, what’s happening here is profoundly different, because in reality we have nothing more urgent to do, nor more important, than to promote culture, education, beauty and what seems to us to express the highest degree of humanity.
With masterpieces of Arab antiquity and Islamic art brought together with pre-Columbian and Chinese art, and artists from ancient times with contemporary artists from Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and China, the whole panorama of civilizations takes shape before our eyes; beauty becomes a key to the universal, a special bond woven between us, because we elevate humanity to its very best.
Beauty is an education in itself, because it prompts us to aim higher, to go beyond ourselves and our condition. (…) It builds a bridge between continents which some people today would like to divide; it builds a bridge between the generations.
That this museum has emerged in Abu Dhabi is very meaningful for France; today you’re at the epicentre of this world of accelerating globalization. You’re at the crossroads of the Western and Eastern worlds. You face towards Europe as much as towards the Arab world, India and China.
You’re the pivotal point between the European, African and Asian continents. You’re at the heart of the geopolitical tensions shaking the world. You have a stake in these hugely complex civilizational and religious challenges, but also in the crucial climate crises that are gripping us.
So what we’ve built together here is, in a way, the living embodiment of the “imaginary museum” Malraux dreamt of; it’s these masterpieces from so many continents and eras, collected and sampled here in this way. And doing this here has very special meaning. (…)
France knows it must maintain its position in this dialogue of cultures, in this outreach of art and heritage. We’re inaugurating here a very special link between our two countries.
This Louvre of the desert and light which you wanted will obviously be a link for at least the next three decades but also – I very strongly believe – for much longer still.
But above all it’s the response France must make alongside you, in order to combat all forms of obscurantism. Earlier, as we passed by, we saw Napoleon’s familiar face. He was a man of conquest, and sometimes he brought back – I’m thinking of the conquest of Egypt – many great works that can be found both in the Louvre and in other French museums.
Today we’re talking about another conquest: not going to look for the greatest works of civilization and bringing them back to our country, but enabling the most beautiful works in the whole world – and in particular those currently housed in France – to be brought here, to this epicentre of all the fighting I was talking about.
This Louvre of the desert and light which you wanted and which we created together reflects our desire to send this universal message here; it reflects this desire to compare our cultures, together; it’s about being humble enough to remember that there’s something similar about beauty here and beauty elsewhere, that there’s something universal in what seemed to us unique to each of our cultures – because every time, there’s a link between us which must make us profoundly determined to combat all forms of withdrawal.
This Louvre of the desert and light is that message sent out against all forms of obscurantism, that message sent out and the bravery you wanted to show, in restoring your religion to what it’s always done, as you’ve just reaffirmed very bravely.
It’s a message of profound syncretism: your religion can’t be loved here without a reminder that all the great monotheistic religions were born here, in this region, and that Islam was born out of this palimpsest of cultures and civilizations which ensure our religions and civilizations are inextricably, intractably linked, and that those who seek to make people believe – wherever in the world it may be – that Islam is built by destroying the other monotheisms are liars and are betraying you.
When it comes to the humanities and sciences here with you, it will be the battle for language, the French language, that I want to be stronger and more influential, here and throughout the surrounding region. I have a secret dream, my dear friend, my dear prince: for French to regain its place in your secondary education and everywhere in state schools, and I’ll play my full part in helping with this, because French isn’t a closed language, it’s a language of translators, it’s a language of transition, it’s a language that has always been built amid multilingualism, and Jordan is well aware of this, as are many countries which are here, and Morocco is perfectly aware of it. I want a strong French language because I want one that will fight this battle with you in Africa and the Middle East, a battle against obscurantism. French is the language of reason, it’s the language of light, it’s the language of this dome, because it’s not a closed language, it’s a language that has intermixed with all the continents where it’s been, because the French language must no longer be a language of hang-ups, the hang-ups of those who colonized or those who decolonized. It must also be the language of young people, of this same conquest.
So I’m here with you not just to open a museum with magnificent works from all our continents, but to open this fantastic “idiocy trap” Jean Nouvel created, through your determination. Because we’re going to catch all the world’s idiocy and destroy it, since anyone who thinks they’re just coming to view works of art will discover that you don’t emerge from these passageways unscathed; because by encountering artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, the Chinese dragon sculptors, your photographers, and painters, they will discover rebellious minds at every turn. All artists have a common trait whichever continent they’re from. They’ve overcome idiocy, they’ve defied the established order, they’ve believed in young people, they’ve loved freedom – more than any privileges –, and they’ve believed in reason as opposed to obscurantism. They’ve sought tolerance and fraternity because they wanted to convey something. More than destruction, they’ve painted faces, they’ve even sculptured nudes because they’ve wanted to; and your courage in wanting to do this here reflects this same spirit of conquest which we’re going to promote together over the next few decades, because this is the place, this is where our fight is, this is where our determination lies.
So let no one make any mistake, here where the light changes every hour, what we’re beginning together is our fight for what is human, it’s our unwavering fight against all self-absorption and hateful language. It’s our determination to protect what is beautiful, what is universal, creation, reason, intelligence and fraternity, because it’s what has made each and every one of us.
So, my friends, here begins the battle of a generation for our young people. We shall fight it in a spirit of conquest because at our side we have beauty from all over the world. (…)./.