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Bozar celebrates African art and culture - should Belgium adopt Black History Month?

07:54 23/02/2018

The killings of Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin in the United States began a movement that would soon make its way around the world. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and Hands Up Don’t Shoot have gained momentum in areas with racial, political and social disparities.

February is Black History Month in the US and Canada - a time of remembrance for the history and experiences of people of African descent. Meanwhile, here in Belgium, Bozar is doing its bit to give these communities visibility with the three-day Afropolitan festival, which opens this Friday.

Omar Ba, an activist, journalist and historian, believes Belgium should itself adopt Black History Month. "We don’t have to pretend this will be the solution," he tells The Bulletin. "I think it’s an initiative - Black History Month is to say, ‘hey there is something that we can do’.”

'Claim more visibility'

Ayoko Mensah, who works at the African department at Bozar, agrees that by adopting a Black History Month, the movement within the month will influence more and more conversations and discussions that will last year-round. "The month is really important because right now, we are almost nowhere,” she says. "It will be a way to start to claim more visibility."

Ba says the media portrayals of minority communities are scarce, and when they do highlight them, it is often because something negative has happened. The youth of these communities rarely know leaders to look up to, and society does not know who the community members are, where they’re from and what they have accomplished since migrating to Europe.

"The aim of this initiative is not to antagonise, but to propose solutions and point out problems," Ba adds. "I think society needs to be kept healthy, and to be kept healthy means to be equal."

'Stereotypes may change'

Many of these discussions, topics and ideas are explored in further detail throughout the weekend at the Afropolitan Festival at Bozar. With everything from movie screenings, to concerts and art exhibits, the festival will have a little bit for everyone to enjoy.

Kathleen Louw, director of the Africa department at Bozar, says the larger objective of this festival is to give another image of Africa, as well as people of African descent. "We hope to attract wide audiences, we hope stereotypes may change and we hope to create some artistic opportunities for some artists who we present,” Lowe says.

All of the events will take place around Bozar, and the weekend kicks off with an open market full of the best African cuisine and an art exhibit by Kehinde Wiley, who recently unveiled his portrait of former US president Barack Obama. Wiley's exhibition features five illuminated stained glasses showing contemporary images of popular US culture, the large-scale works offer an alternative view of African culture. Los Angeles-born Wiley renders his portraits of men, women and children sacred by incorporating them into classic Christianity imagery. It is the first time Wiley’s work has been exhibited in Belgium.

There will also be a showing of the documentary Whose Streets? which discusses the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the debate "No Justice, No Peace" will follow after the screening.

The festival is a crossroads of creations, meetings, exchanges and offers multidisciplinary events including concerts, slams, hip-hop, a handicrafts market, fashion, books, kids' activities, dance and singing workshops and more.

Afropolitan, 23-25 February, Bozar

Written by Molly Dove