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Belgium: In Ghent, Saint Nicholas will not be a black woman after all

2023-11-28T19:10:27.137Z

Highlights: Belgium: In Ghent, Saint Nicholas will not be a black woman after all. The arrival of a decolonialist artist, who intended to make this popular Advent festival more inclusive, was cancelled by the municipality following a controversy. Christmas decorations are lit on the suburbs. Everyone is holding their breath: December is coming, and its procession of controversies about the thousand and one ways to break more or less subtly with the traditional spirit of this holiday whose fault is that it was born before the era of diversity and recycling.


The arrival of a decolonialist artist, who intended to make this popular Advent festival more inclusive, was cancelled by the municipality following a controversy.


Christmas decorations are lit on the suburbs. Everyone is holding their breath: December is coming, and its procession of controversies about the thousand and one ways to break more or less subtly with the traditional spirit of this holiday whose fault is that it was born before the era of diversity, inclusion and recycling. As a warm-up tour, the environmentalist municipalities are controversially revisiting the festive clothes with which they adorn the streets of their city with a controversial taste - this year, it is Nantes that has stuck to it. But the real kick-off of the match was blown in Belgium, in the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent, where Saint Nicholas almost became... Queen Nikolah.

The municipality was indeed the subject of a controversy on social networks, for having scheduled the arrival of the artist Laura Nsengiyumva on the day of Saint Nicholas, December 6. This, reports the media outlet 7 sur 7, "challenges the classic boundaries between cultures and genders". A biographical note from a contemporary art museum in the city of Ghent, the SMAK, also states about the artist that it "explores themes of diasporic experience, hidden histories, North-South relations and empathy [...] through images and interventions in colonial spaces". In 2018, for example, she melted down an ice statue of King Leopold II, who was King of the Belgians at the time of the colonization of the Congo.

As Saint Nicholas is not suspected of having been involved in Belgian colonization in Africa (the bishops who inspired the legendary figure of this saint who lived in the third and sixth centuries), something else had to be found. The artist didn't have to look far: Saint Nicholas is an old white male, so there's nothing like a reincarnation as a young black woman to distil a bit of inclusion in the festivities surrounding this retrograde character.

Read alsoFewer illuminations, synthetic ice rink... Nancy will celebrate her Saint Nicholas Day "soberly"

The mayor was 'not aware'

This is how Laura Nsengiyumva imagined the character of "Queen Nikolah", the deconstructed counterpart of Santa's archaic competitor. 200 people signed up for the event to get to know this alternative Saint Nicholas, but his visit was finally cancelled by the municipality, a few minutes before the municipal council on Monday 27 October, which was expected to be stormy for the majority led by the liberal mayor Mathias De Clercq (Open Vld).

The latter indicated that he had not been made aware of the initiative when it was decided. He told HLN that he was "a bad debate that doesn't benefit anyone," adding, "If you want to be an inclusive and diverse city, you have to attract people, not repel them."

His deputy in charge of international solidarity, Hafsa El-Bazioui, whose services were behind the event, made up his mind - while confiding her regrets. "In the context of an open debate on inclusion, this is a valuable initiative. This artist points out to us that there should be more room for girls in visible roles at a children's party," she said. "City Hall is not the best place for this. The organizer will be looking for a better location for this worthwhile event. Without a doubt, he deserves a place in our city."

It further clarifies that children who own books with outdated illustrations and stereotypical images can still exchange them on December 6 for a more contemporary book on the story of St. Nicholas, taking into account diverse sensitivities.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2023-11-28

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