Le Piscine, National Gallery of Modern Art of the city of Roubaix opened its doors to a retrospective exhibition of Nathalie Leté’s works on the 21rst of March 2015.
An international crowd of dedicated followers merged in with the locals, finding comfort in the colorful opening ceremony after a journey across a black and white city severely lacking contrast.
The visitor can be easily overwhelmed by the south Flanders landscape: plenty of empty and available space with abundant sky, invariably gray; the vague reminiscence of sea shoreline accents the wind gently deposited between the buildings are a reminder that the only available escape route is far away. Red brick storehouses and factories stand empty in what once was the Kingdom of wool of the “belle-Epoque” feeding generations of weavers and soap makers believing the good times would never come to an end end, till “la grande guerre” brought them back to reality.
Stepping off the train in such a setting, the traveler suddenly feels the urge to share his deepest feelings with the bar tender while Jacques Brel fanatically underscores his state of mind in the little radio on the shelf below the liberty style mirror – but there is no such place in sight where he can unload his burden.
By contrast, Nathalie, wearing a pink fake fur coat, welcomes each single visitor to her world of colour, fantasy and some crude details of central European fairy tales. The museum, a beautifully restored Belle Epoque swimming pool with its glazed turquoise tiles and white marble statues, now a National Gallery, is perfectly in tune with the event.
Compositions of traditional french “charcuterie” hang lugubriously from meat-packer hooks like savagely murdered dolls; a chicken prepared for the Sunday roast, decorated with Hungarian style folk patterns sits enigmatically in a glass cabinet, icon of a sacrificial beast ; pictures of bourgeois families from postcards of times long gone, recoloured for the occasion, depict children dressed as butchers showing off the daily production of fresh meat from the family butchery;
The tripes of the slain bad wolf lying beside a kitchen sink bring a positive note to the room. “A friend told me the wolf represents the father figure” whispered Nathalie over my shoulder, before welcoming yet another editor and a group of friends from Paris.
A short corridor, the interior of a gingerbread house, is decorated with elegant limited edition plates by Astier De Villatte and Po! Paris‘s cushions, amongst other products designed for various editors she is particularly fond of.
Further down, in a larger room, tapestries hang from the wall , depicting a world that would make Lewis Carroll feel like a rationalist geek and revise large sections of his works, along with his choice of tea. Toy cars, a 1950ies version of mickey mouse puppet, all sorts of insects and toy guns, embroidered and woven on an intricate woven carpet -from a distance and a in certain light- easily mistaken for a newly restored renaissance gobelin from the crown’s royal workshops of the Paris left bank.
I proudly took a generous amount of pictures and sent them to our weavers in Albania, knowing this could be a turning point in their towns history.
The fruit of their passion for embroidery and weaving , centuries of precious craftsmanship, so close to extinction, coupled with a natural penchant for colours, now hang from the wall of a national museum in France, and, what’s more, in Europe’s cradle of the best weaving industry.
Their city can be proud of this group of women from what has been considered a “sensitive” neighborhood.
“Nineteen” Leta once told me when I asked how many people work in the cooperative workshop she operates. A social business in the middle of the “city of walls” where our driver once refused to come along with me to the house because no men from the family were around. I still recall him saying “tu non capisci niente” (you don’t understand a thing) referring to the traditional Albanian codes of conduct he believed were applied to the letter in the area, locking himself in his BMW and leaving me to walk alone to the garden where a single loom stood on the terrace.
That garden is now a two story workshop hosting six looms and a spinning machine to make yarn from the best chosen wool from mountain sheep. A workshop open to the local families providing training and work for skilled weavers, producing items worthy of a National Gallery.
Walking through a corridor leading to the butchery I let myself sink in the underwater world of tropical seabeds of ceramic corals and shells, and more of that extraordinary weaving.
Yes they are going to be proud, and so are we, to be simply somehow part of the story.
“Thank you for coming” she said at the breakfast table at the hotel were the admirers and friends had spent the night after the long celebration that followed the opening.
Thank you, Nathalie, for making it possible with such talent.