This article is written by Damla Ekin
Connecting old and new Brusseleirs
I was intrigued from the beginning by the objective of Bewogen Festival, “a cultural festival in Brussels that seeks to create small-scale encounters among refugees, newcomers and those who have been living in Brussels since quite some time”. The question that concerns me, also in my own creative practice, is whether we can “grow towards an inclusive society” through cultural and artistic activities “based on fostering such small-scale encounters” as aimed at by the festival.
Bal Bougé, the large-scale evening program with various activities on Saturday 15th February at De Markten by various partners of the festival, the highlight event of the festival that took place between 12th and 16th of February, proposed me a perspective on this question about possibility of triggering social change through cultural and artistic activities. This is that of ‘crossing the arc’.
De Markten is one of the 22 community centers of the Flemish Community in Brussels and the most central one. During some exchanges with some longstanding Brussels residents, I had already realized that this quite big community center, proposing many and various activities is unknown to them. And this is although it is placed just besides the famous Saint-
Catherine Square and it hosts quite well frequented café, which has the same name. Because even tough they have passed one thousand times in front of it, they have never made it through the arc that takes you to the center.
A step into the unknown
On the 15th of February when I arrived at De Markten with my daughter a little after the starting hour announced at 4 pm, the percussion music played by some members of VSP (la Voix des Sans-Papiers, a collective of undocumented inhabitants active in Brussels) was already alluring passerby’s towards the opening of the arc. A young woman swiftly approached to me to propose information about the event in three languages of the festival: English, Dutch and French. With the accompaniment of the shy sunbeam – which feels always like a blessing in Brussels – we made our way through musicians, dancing children and curious passerby’s taking photos into the arc towards the courtyard of De Markten with my daughter. I thought that sometimes it takes simply a welcoming smile and some music to cross over an architectural border towards unknown.
©Ahmad Al Saadi
After crossing the courtyard we entered in the building. On the ground floor there were some exhibitions, a comfy corner with cushions, a food stand, possibility to paint, to make potato printing, to get a make-up, a giant chess game, a film projection space (which I have only discovered right before leaving),… Nothing extraordinary, but everything set up to make you comfortable and inviting you to hang around. For sure it is the details, whichgives the feeling of being in a welcoming space. The photos showing on one side the face and the other the back of some individuals, hanging from the ceiling at the eye level were giving the impression of walking in a garden of strangers, with the possibility of encountering them, exchanging a gaze… Just besides at the comfy corner a courageous invitation proposed in a very modest way: Would you like to look into a stranger’s eye for one minute? No more rules, no strings attached. Again we maybe just need a simple invitation, a simple excuse to make that step towards an ‘other’.
Photos: ©Ahmad Al Saadi
Let’s dance together
When I walked upstairs following my curious daughter, we discovered the stage prepared for the concerts with a bar on the side. First, again musicians and dancers of VSP was taking the stage, then a short stand-up show concentrating on cultural shocks of a Syrian refugee, Basel Addoum, on behalf of RANA (Refugees Are Not Alone) followed by the concert of Gueladio Ba affiliated with open arts house Globe Aroma with his music “described as West African blues, with many traditional influences”. Towards the end of the very energetic and exhilarating spectacle of Watan Dabke, “an international group of middle-eastern folkloric (Dabke) dancers”, I’ve started to think about the distance that spectatorship builds up. However, a few minutes later the dance floor that was mainly populated until then by kids, who are freer from social boundaries than adults, became a common ground for almost everyone present making a huge circle and trying to catch up with rhythms of Dabke. While looking at accentuates a form of ‘othering’, dancing and enjoying together truly brings us together.
I left the event with this elevated mood coming from togetherness, a bit disappointed by my parenthood limitations and curious what else Bal Bougé has proposed to those who could have stayed out of what Bewogen festival promised. I am still not convinced that I experienced “a party of 182 nationalities” nor I believe now that we can truly change the society with cultural activities. But we can propose an opening, an invitation, an encouragement to cross the arc towards discovering the other. It still depends on us whether we will make the move or the time to cross over that border, that boundary towards the encounter with the unknown. However I believe in the attraction we have for the unknown, the desire to share with the other - be it the joy or the sadness; especially if we have the chance and a safe space to do so.
©Piet Deslé ©Luc Auwaerts