Marie-Aude St. Michel

A French national with Italian roots, Marie-Aude Saint Michel has lived in Lviv (Ukraine), Brussels (Belgium), Manchester (U.K.), and Montreal (Canada). She earned a PhD in Russian literature, and now frequently commutes to New York for art and work. Born in Nice and raised in Cannes—a cosmopolitan fond of xenophilia since forever—Marie-Aude has always been passionate about the notion of resilience. The ideas of resistance and martyrdom continue as sources of fascination, perhaps because her parents aided Polish refugees in her childhood. At age 16, Marie-Aude experienced a turning point when visiting Auschwitz and Jerusalem. She began with broad thoughts: how could human beings dedicate their intelligence to wiping out others? How could they reduce to ashes their peers, even children? How could a monotheistic people choose to live with a wall amongst them? After this trip, she met with Holocaust survivor, Mieczysław Grajewsk, also known as Martin Gray. Listening to the testimony of the American-French author who was born a Polish Jew was decisive. Years later, Marie-Aude dedicated four years of her life to studying the Russian Gulag system, and met with eminent dissidents such as Vladimir Bukovsky and Natalia Gorbanevskaya. Her work at the Ukrainian Catholic University with former diplomat Antoine Arjakovsky and Harvard-educated Bishop Borys Gudziak, was another turn in her life. She saw the consequences of terror on a civil society which still aims at rebuilding itself, yet faces war and struggles with history. Through the combined work of French-Russian, Arjakovsky, and Ukrainian-American, Gudziak, she also saw how goodwill can pave the way to reconciliation. Humans destroy but humans can rebuild. Humans may suffer but they may resurrect from terror.

The decision to use terrorism and its effect on the mind, soul and feelings on the general public as subject matter rose during a stay in Brussels in May 2016. Marie-Aude passed through the Maelbeek underground station only days after a terrorist attack targeted the city. As the train slowed down, and went through the two huge black curtains that were modestly covering the remains of the horror, everyone on the train shut up. It reminded her of watching people suddenly become quiet in Moscow when they would walk by the Lubianka prison. There, she felt in her living cells the spiritual and physical need to translate these emotions and feelings.

This sensation was confirmed in New York as she returned to the former site of the Twin Towers. To Marie-Aude, the absence of the towers was a huge scar in the city, but the soul of New York remains—as well as that of Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin, etc. People carry on living all over the world. They live, but fear of losing a beloved or our own life is never far from the surface.

Marie-Aude was also present on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on July 14 only two hours before a large truck drove through the crowd. With friends and family spread in major cities worldwide, Marie-Aude wishes to humbly pay tribute to all victims, past and future, via her series, Manifesto. Manifesto is a salute to the courage of all who resist fear by carry on living their lives with the hope that one day this terrorism will end.

Every painting has three levels of reading: the obviously visible, the invisible becoming visible, and the symbols hidden into it. This echoes reality: there’s what we see and what exists on other levels. It is up to everyone to see and interpret as they wish and feel. All that matters is inner freedom.

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Artwork by Marie-Aude St. Michel