→ 27 Aug 14 at 7 pm
Stephan Vanfleteren‘s photographs from his series ‘Belgicum’ has been ongoing for over 20 years. It’s a personal history, a search for the heart of the Belgian people who are often misunderstood or forgotten by others in Europe.
For many Europeans Belgium means Brussels, the EU, NATO and beer. We know little else, we view it as a cultural backwater, a flat boring landscape populated by people who are trapped in an historical entanglement, the Walloons to the South and the Flemish to the North. Both opposing each other on every level; political, social and cultural.
Belgium is a Federal Monarchy, a country that has been struggling to find a national identity since it became independent in 1830 when it acceded from the Netherlands. Its geographical position on the continent has seen it as both a battleground for Europe and a prosperous and cosmopolitan centre of commerce and culture. Its a land shaped by the twists and turns of history, the tension within it the product of its own vitality and its through this prism that Vanfleteren sought to find a sense of self and what it meant to be a Belgian in the 21st Century.
He took to the road, travelling with his camera through the rural heartland, away from the cosmopolitan life of Brussels and Ghent and into the villages, bars, factories and derelict streets looking for everyday people, colourful individuals that represented a more multifaceted aspect of his country. His pictures give us a timeless portrait of a people whose lives are scarred by their history, the photographs imbued with a profound melancholia that shapes the narrative depth of this fascinating country.
He takes us up close and personal, concentrates on the individual, the unique quality of the people who populate the country. The urbanites and bureaucrats are noticeably absent. They are the same everywhere. It’s in the quiet corners of Belgium that he searched for and found the heart of his nation. As he said himself about the series:
‘Belgicum’ is a photo project about Belgium. This is not an objective reflection of the country, but a subjective photographic documentary in black-and-white. A journey of discovery through a small country at the heart of Europe at the turn of the century. Stephan Vanfleteren wandered, got lost and searched through the ‘Belgicum’ territory for more than fifteen years, driven by emotion and love for his motherland. It was a trip through a country with scars, looking for an elusive identity but with the melancholic soul of an ancient nation.