Happy birthday Franprix! Working in association with the French supermarket chain, veteran first generation Parisian street artist, Jérôme Mesnager, plants his latest work outside one of its shops in Saint-Ouen in the department of Saint-Seine-Denis, in the northern outskirts of Paris. Mesnager’s painting celebrates the 60-year anniversary of the company’s founding, depicting two of Mesnager’s hommes en blancs characters, who hold hands and seem to frolic into the distance, surrounded by birds. Franprix is part of the Casino group of grocery outlets, which holds an 11.6% share of the French market, and owns chains across the world, from Brazil to the Indian Ocean. Many people love to praise the democratising power of street art. Without the stuffiness and nepotism of the art gallery, street artists make art more accessible, using it as a voice for the disenfranchised. Therefore, Mesnager’s promotion of one of France’s biggest supermarket chains jars a little.
Several years ago, Franprix, formerly known for stocking a wide selection of budget items, undertook a massive refit of its portfolio of shops, while simultaneously hiking up its prices on many everyday products. It is far from a small community institution to be cherished and celebrated, rather a symbol of the growing levels of income inequality in France and across the world.
Not only do big supermarket monopolies exploit their workers, their control of the market also allows them to manipulate and reduce the choice of consumers. As supermarket groups continue to grow and snap up local chains, food producers are forced to merge and grow to keep up with bulk orders, disfavouring smaller producers. Supermarkets also use insidious market tactics to try and influence the buying habits of their customers, which they are able to track through loyalty cards. For example, unhealthy treats such as sugary cereal are often placed at children’s eye-level to try and increase sales.
Many people love to praise the democratising power of street art. Without the stuffiness and nepotism of the art gallery, street artists make art more accessible, using it as a voice of for the disenfranchised. Therefore, Mesnager’s promotion of one of France’s biggest supermarket chains jars a little.
Let’s take the Walton family, for instance. Owners of an even bigger supermarket chain, Walmart, they are the wealthiest family in the United States of America with an estimated fortune of perhaps $175,000,000,000 ($175 billion) divided across seven individuals. While Walmart employees struggle on social security assistance to complement their barely $10 per hour Walmart wage, the seven family members hold more wealth than the entire bottom 40% of Americans. Moreover, a 2014 report revealed that around $6,200,000,000 ($6.2 billion) of tax revenue was spent on public assistance for Walmart employees on an unfair wage. Happy birthday Franprix!
Just as chains like Franprix will only display the most perfectly shaped bananas to their customers, Jérôme Mesnager presents us with his frolicking hommes en blanc, representations of the Greek ideal of the perfect male body. However, we should not celebrate the false perfection that stores like these attempt to convey to us. The wealth and power that supermarket chains have accumulated, is something to be scorned and mistrusted.
Website of Jérôme Mesnager, here.
Instagram of Jérôme Mesnager, here.