After spending quite a lot of time exploring Paris’ most famous and exciting museums and monuments, and an equal amount of time sitting at home eating cereal in my pyjamas, I decided to investigate what other things I could discover. This was Paris after all, and art of some kind could be found around almost any corner!
I found one of my favourite ‘lesser-known’ sights in Paris at Parc Bercy, a quiet park in Paris’ East in the 12th arrondissment. It’s a series of bronze sculptures called Les Enfants du Monde (The children of the world), created by French sculptor Rachid Khimoune in 2001. This multicultural crowd of melted and reworked metal represents 21 different countries, standing peacefully in a long line in the upper terrace of Parc Bercy. Each character comes to life with the very metal of the city streets; the textures, colours and insignia of manhole covers is integrated into each personality.
On a grey and rainy Paris day, I took a raincoat and a camera to see what these sculptures were.
Each one has a name; however, as many of the plaques for each sculpture have been lost, it is in the metal that the clues reside as to where they come from, and I needed Google to help me discover their names. This lady in the flowing dress of grates is Marie Carmen l’Espangol, the Spanish lady (more specifically, from Valencia!)
A throwback to the ancient days of Egypt, this is Isis l’Egyptienne. A pretty cool bronze sarcophagus…I wonder if the manhole covers in Egypt really do have hieroglyphs?
Woah, check out the crazy hair! And the party shirt made of what appear to be fire hydrant water outlets! It’s Antonio le Brésilien! (Antonio the Brasilian)
I think the way that the patterned ‘cloth’ is all bunched up where her hands are looks incredible. Great craftsmanship with Ranita l’Arabe (Ranita the Arab).
Hiding a pair of manhole covers underneath his bronze vest is Ali le Tunisien (Ali the Tunisian). The little bits of colour on these statues is what gives them a bit of flair, like Ali’s red fez!
Felipe le Mexicain (Felipe the Mexican), an unfortunate victim of unwanted graffiti here. Nevertheless, he’s one of my favourites, a smiley one with a really cool poncho.
Enzo l’Italien (Enzo the Italian) seems to hail from Venice. His mask is the dead giveaway, but if you look a little closer, one of the best things about Enzo is his multi-textured vest, which seems as though Khimoune went on a stealing spree, making off with covers for all kinds of ground coverings (cunningly stitched together to great effect).
This cobblestone-covered egg thing is actually Jeanne le Poupée Russe (Jeanne the Russian doll), and features anti-slip shoulders, and the funkiest manhole cover ever on her stomach!
Do New Yorkers commonly dress up as native Americans? Jim le New-Yorkais does! He seems to be a really interesting guy, with a perplexed expression, a smile that reads ‘Broadway’, and an homage to his country’s native inhabitants adorning his head in storm drain grate form. Cool.
This mysterious grim reaper is actually Mohamed le Marocain (Mohamed the Moroccan), wrapped in a thick cloak of Casablancan utility covers. I imagine the artist in his workshop, trying to manipulate a molten slab of metal like this into a coat!
This happy fellow with starry eyes is Jean-Baptiste le Manégasque. Manégasque is a dialect of the Ligurian language, spoken (as Jean-Baptiste’s hat suggests) in Monaco.
Naomi l’Africaine (Naomi the African), presumably a representative for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In the style of representing the roads of the country, Naomi’s dress aptly depicts the unpaved dirt and clay roads I remember well from a 4WD road trip I did a few years ago!
Impeccably dressed, and sporting a large bronze turban, meet Mahatma l’Indien!
This fashionable figure with the manhole cover necklace, gas utility belt buckle and astonished, fish-like expression is Eve l’Allemande (Eve the German).
This expressionless man is Jean le Suisse (Jean the Swiss). His breastplate, interestingly enough, says ‘Neuchatel’, the name of a Swiss city where Khimoune has exhibited another ‘Enfants du Monde’.
That wry smile belongs to Mu Nan le Chinoise.
Proud of a their country’s leaf as only a Canadian could be, this patriotic character is Akavak le Canadien.
Probably faceless to begin, Kahina la Kabyle has been given a seductive winking face by an enterprising graffiti artist. Kahina hails from Algeria.
The big, round, melty face of Dick l’Anglais clearly came from a London street, and it’s written all over his smile too! I like the fusion of smooth tarmac road and historic cobblestones on Dick’s winter coat.
This solid bronze big-haired Geisha is Ayako la Japonaise. The effect of the manhole cover stamps works well to create a traditional outfit!
Last but not least is the Frenchman, Le Titi Parisien. The exact definition of a Titi Parisien seem difficult to define, but seems to be a resourceful, cheeky kid from Paris’ streets. The beaming smile says it all!
It can be confusing to find Les Enfants du Monde; the most straightforward way is to cross the Seine from the Bibliothéque Nationale across the wavy pedestrian bridge Passarelle Simone-de-Beauvoir, accessible from Metro Quai de la Gare. Alternatively, Metro stations Bercy and Cour Saint-Émilion are not far away too.