“Yes, Beyoncé has her place at ENS”

Posted Nov 30, 2022, 12:32 PMUpdated Nov. 30, 2022, 6:28 p.m.

Since November 24, it is not on the stage of the Accor Arena or at the Stade de France that Beyoncé fans flock… but on the benches of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) on rue d’ Ulm, in Paris! Three students from the prestigious school, supported by their teaching team, had the idea of ​​offering a seminar entirely devoted to the 41-year-old pop icon.

“Beyoncé: revivals and reappropriations”, “a rhetoric of the image at the crossroads of influences: Beyoncé and the interplay of references”, “towards a cultured pop: Beyoncé and the impact of musical syncretisms”… For six evenings, philosophers , journalists or even an artistic collective have and will follow one another within the walls of the ENS to deal (very seriously) with the star of RnB, what she says about “culture” and its “representativeness”. Victor Kandelaft, one of the students at the school who initiated the seminar, and Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen, professor of art history and director of the Arts department at ENS, explain to us the why and how of this incursion. of pop culture in one of the largest elite training centers in the country.

Les Echos Start: Why did you choose to organize a whole cycle of conferences around Beyoncé at the ENS?

Victor Kandelaft (student): Three years ago, on the occasion of a small assignment that I had to submit as part of a course devoted to the history of art, I had the idea of ​​making the link between the Renaissance Christian iconography and Beyoncé. The star of the song had decided to take over this iconography, in 2017, for the birth announcement of her twins. She was then clearly inspired by the representations of the “Virgin and Child”, and on the other hand by the representation of Venus, in particular in “The Birth of Venus” by the Italian painter Sandro Botticelli.

Moreover, Beyoncé is a pop figure with whom I grew up, like many young people of my generation, and who questions contemporary art, the economy, culture, feminism and Afro-feminism in particular. To organize this seminar around Beyoncé, I teamed up with two other students to set it up… then the machine gradually got going!

Isn’t the idea with Beyoncé also to dust off your prestigious school?

Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen (teacher): Certainly not. We have long claimed to be an open school. It is a vision that annoys us to think that the ENS is a deadly place, exclusively focused on ancient heritage culture. We have always wanted to open up ancient culture to the present time. It’s in the school’s DNA. So it’s a little hard to hear when some accuse us of wokism or demagoguery because we let our students organize an entire seminar devoted to Beyoncé.

You talk about the organization of seminars by your students, like this one dedicated to the American singing superstar. Is this an integral part of ENS pedagogy?

Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen (teacher): Completely ! We consider the young people we train as young professionals, young researchers, young teachers. Organizing a seminar is very formative: it teaches them to decide on a subject, to organize an event, or even to manage the invitation of many personalities. Without wishing to appear grandiloquent, what we do here with our students is similar to what is called “maieutics”. We help them to “give birth” to these seminars, so that they can then fly on their own.

We discuss the theme of the seminar beforehand, we approve it, and then our students are completely free. I would add that with the organization of this type of event, our students learn to speak in public, but also to work in a team. Many here are doing a doctoral thesis, which is a very solitary exercise: managing a project together allows them to get out of this solitude.

Victor Kandelaft (student): For having taken care of the organization of this seminar, I can say that it taught me project management and to work in a group. Furthermore, the organization of conference cycles like this one is taken into account in the validation of my ENS diploma. It is also not compulsory for obtaining the diploma, but I do not regret having chosen this option: the skills that I have been able to develop will necessarily serve me in my professional life. And then it also changed the ideas I had for my future career. At the start, I said to myself that I did not want to teach, that I would not pass the competition for the aggregation. Finally, after the organization of this beautiful event, I say to myself why not do a doctoral thesis afterwards. Not necessarily on Beyoncé by the way (laughs) !

To note

The “Beyoncé: shades of a cultural icon” seminar is being held until February 9, 2023 at the ENS (45 rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris). Five sessions are still scheduled. Admission is free. The full program can be found here.

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