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Zinneke Parade is a celebration of multi-cultural Brussels

23:59 19/05/2016
The biennial parade is about unity, regardless of age, culture or nationality, and will be winding its colourful way through the capital on Saturday

Created for Brussels European Capital of Culture in 2000, the Zinneke Parade - which takes place this weekend - has become a mainstay of the city's cultural landscape, attracting over 85,000 spectators.

Made up of residents and artists, it highlights the rich culture of Brussels, cosmopolitan and pluralistic, and was created to build bridges between the 18 municipalities and the city centre and between the people of Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia through socio-cultural associations.

Every two years the groups taking part, called Zinnodes (think of the Krewes of New Orleans' Mardi Gras) rally around a theme chosen by the people of Brussels by public vote. After such themes as water, disorder and temptation, this year's theme is fragility. They create an unforgettable, entrancing, striking and magical spectacle that combines elements of Belgium's very rich carnival folklore with a contemporary multicultural twist.

The organisers say in their manifesto: "Zinneke is a living city project that creates opportunities for meeting, collaboration, cooperation and creation, that generates an artistic and social dynamic between residents, associations, schools and artists from different districts in Brussels and elsewhere.

"Artistic projects are developed based on the ideas, suggestions and imagination of the participants in our workshops. The workshops themselves are as much meeting places for people whose paths would never cross in everyday life as havens of creativity where new methods and forms of collective acts of solidarity are forever being reinvented."

The parade, which sets off on Saturday 21 May at 15.00, features two dozen Zinnodes - of 50 to 100 people each - over 200 artists and 150 organisations from more than 30 municipalities.

Why is it called Zinneke? It is the local name for a branch of the Senne/Zenne river that circles Brussels and protects it from flooding. Somehow the name was transferred to the occasional mutts who ended up in the river and became a name applied to the people of Brussels for their mixed heritage.

The participants are of all ages, all ethnicities, and all walks of life. Ahmad Misho, a refugee from Aleppo, Syria has only been in Belgium for five months but he is already involved with the parade. "I came to Belgium to start a new life," he tells The Bulletin. "I work now with Zinneke Parade. I'm very interested to join them and create costumes. I like to share with them, I like this experience."

Englishman Simon Blackley, on the other hand, has been living in Brussels for more than 12 years and became a Belgian citizen three years ago. He is working with the Zinnode Le Parloir which is organising its variation on fragility around detention centres.

"Detention is an issue that I care a lot about," he says. "I participated in workshops on writing and movements. In parallel the same workshops were held in the Berkendael women's prison and the Andenne men's prison. During the parade, the Zinnode will be expressing the movements and the words of those prisoners. As a photographer it's been a fantastic opportunity to participate and to show the people on the two sides the photographs of the other."

'Amazing project'

Belgian native Peter Veyt is the artistic director of a Zinnode for the second time. "We try to build something that is really beautiful," he says. "It's one of the most amazing projects that I do because the magic lies really in the connection between art and the social thinking which is behind the philosophy of Zinneke in general.

"I share my passion with people who are not usually exposed to creative activity. The rewards are bigger than any money can buy. I have never been rewarded bigger or more that at the Zinneke Parade because you bring together all these different people and they just show the love they have. They can show something to other people which beforehand they never would have imagined they could do."

Zinneke Parade 2016, Saturday 21 May 15.00 in Brussels city centre

Written by Richard Harris