To me, Antwerp is the city I grew up in, where I studied architecture and where I discovered the power of art in the city’s many museums and theatres. After my studies, I briefly worked and lived in Switzerland. Upon my return to Belgium, Antwerp suddenly seemed rather small, and while I kept on living there, I found myself in a more international context in Brussels during my day job. Then, in September 2016, I was offered to reorient Extra City kunsthal – located in a multicultural residential area in Berchem – to an art space that focuses on contemporary urbanity. That’s when I really delved into the city, uncovering what’s behind the hustle and bustle of the streets of my hometown. There’s no denying that it’s back to the roots. Zooming in and examining what happens on a local level in order to better understand the events and trends on a global scale.
As an artistic institution, we want to show to a large audience how contemporary artists reflect on our urban future, how they translate public issues into image, and how they come up with alternative scenario’s and new narratives, widening the mind of their spectators.
Now, I find myself walking through the city I’ve been absent from for the last ten years. I too, look at Antwerp with a new pair of eyes, and I have to confess that I truly love this city. More metropolitan than Ghent and cosier than Brussels, with a particularly rich history, an artistic offer that rivals global art hubs and a world harbour that puts the city on the economic map as well. Things are moving. More and more young artists and creatives look for contact with other branches, and citizens don’t eschew starting their own business. The city is truly alive and kicking.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked several out-of-towners what they deemed emblematic for Antwerp. “You guys are pioneers,” a friend said, adding that “in Antwerp new trends are picked up on the quickest, but that fact is on its turn countered by the tendency Antwerp has to put this forward.” I tried explaining them that they shouldn’t confuse Antwerp’s sense of humour with arrogance. We like hyperbole, irony connects us. And we know we’re exaggerating, but you have to admit that Antwerp is reminiscent of New York by the Scheldt River. If it is performance arts you’re after, you should make a visit to deSingel, an institution showing the best both the international and national classical music scene have to offer. Architecture buffs too, have a good reason to head over, because the Flemish Architecture Institute is housed in the same building and regularly hosts lectures and exhibitions. The best small-scale productions, in my opinion, can be seen at Monty in the Brederodestraat. I’d advise the younger generations to pass by Het Bos and its adjoining Bosbar, where as a bonus the Otark ladies prepare a delicious breakfast on Sundays.