The Museum and Memorial of Terrorism officially acquired, in March 2023, the 293 drawings made by Noëlle Herrenschmidt, during the trial of the November 2015 attacks. The watercolor reporter handed over to Elisabeth Pelsez, executive director of the Museum and Memorial of Terrorism , the drawings that are now part of the museum's collections and will be available for display in the museum.
In a few questions, Noëlle Herrenschmidt tells us more about her work.
MMT : You have already painted many trials, considered out of the ordinary or historical, like the Barbie, Touvier or Papon trials, how is this one different?
NH: It is different in two ways. First of all, the other major trials that I have drawn were those of crimes against humanity judged more than 30 years after the facts, but this is a current trial. The victims, as well as the culprits and even the lawyers are 30 or 40 years old. It is a totally different population, much younger, and I was struck by the fact that, contrary to usual, the gendarmes present were in light blue and not in large uniforms, so that, I think, it would be less impressive and the victims would feel as comfortable as possible. Then, the other difference is the period of the trial. Because at the beginning, in September 2021, we were still under Covid rules, so everyone was wearing masks, unlike at the end, in June 2022. So we had to adapt the drawing to convey the emotions despite the mask, and then when the people unmasked themselves, I sometimes had some surprises, because I didn't imagine them like that.
MMT: For you, what was the most difficult moment to represent during the trial?
NH: Strictly speaking, none, because our job, for us, the trial painters, is to testify, to transmit. There is no limit to what we can transmit. The pencil and the brush are there to tell what happened. Thus, we are "co-actors" of the process, we do not undergo, we act. However, it is true that some moments are particularly strong, especially the parents' testimonies. I remember, for example, a woman, a mother, who wished that during her testimony, the face of her two deceased twins be displayed. It was overwhelming, moreover, with the other artists, there were 8 or 9 of us, we all looked at each other, we felt that we all shared the same emotion.
MMT : About your works, more precisely, what is your technique ?
NH: I mainly use the brush and the pencil. I use the brush with watercolor, which is my accomplice, I let it do what it wants. And then, the graphite lead allows me to have an incisive line. During the different trials, I realized that the word could also be very important, so I had to write these words. Being a left-handed person, I have the chance to do both at the same time. Sometimes I fill pages with writing while drawing with my other hand. One of my other particularities is the use of white. Indeed, I often leave white spaces in my watercolors to guide the reader's gaze, which will first be attracted by the color. It is thus necessary to accept not to finish a drawing to make sure that the one who looks will be well guided in the drawing and thus in the process.
MMT: Your drawings will be exhibited at MMT, what does that mean to you?
NH: It is very important for me that these drawings can be seen, because they are and must be for everyone. And then, by exhibiting them at MMT, it is a bit like giving them back to their authors, besides my drawings of the Papon and Barbie trials are in the Shoah museum. Giving them back to their authors means making them accessible to all the actors in the trial, with whom I spent nearly ten months continuously.
MMT: Do you have a favorite drawing among all those you made during this trial?
NH: Yes, there is one that particularly touches me. It is a drawing that does not correspond to a fixed reality, to an instant, but which is a construction. I represented the room and a screen on which appears a victim, an exceptional woman who is overwhelming, with a box of tissues at her side. And around this screen, I painted the previous victim on the left and on the right the statue of fidelity. This drawing thus tells, without the need for text, the mixture between the victims who testify and the 19th century. The victim who is looked at by this statue brings enormously to the whole drawing, insisting on the notion of transmission which is for me important in my drawings. And as in the foreground, I left the room in white, it guides the reader's gaze.