The Antwerp Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

To mark the release of our Warriors edition, we've teamed up with This is Antwerp to bring you 100 Antwerp Warriors, a 100-strong selection of local movers and shakers setting the tone for the neighbourhood of tomorrow. From design and architecture to contemporary art and politics, these are the creatives shaping the narrative of the future.

Bart Vanderbiesen

Bart Vanderbiesen

Owner, Base-Alpha gallery

How would you describe Antwerp and its citizens?

I was born in the countryside somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels. In the smallest village you can imagine. As a young kid, even the smaller cities surrounding it were exciting to me. I came to study in Antwerp when I was 14 years old, and it seemed like a whole new world opening up to me – I’ve been nestling myself into this city ever since. Afterwards, I spent some time in Brussels and Ghent, but eventually returned to Antwerp because of its vivid art scene –  it’s unique, quite stubborn and immensely innovative. People here don’t stick to tradition. There’s room for experimentation, and there’s room to fail too. You can go flat on your face over here, and start over with something completely different afterwards.

What makes the city appealing for creatives?

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re a harbour city. Antwerp has always been used to the many foreign influences. Ever since the city has been a commercial centre by the River Scheldt, there have always been travellers and immigrants coming and going. There have always been artists, entrepreneurs and merchants, because the city had enough money to support them. And in a way, this is still the case.

People here don’t stick to tradition. There’s room for experimentation, and there’s room to fail too. You can go flat on your face over here, and start over with something completely different afterwards.

What’s unique about the city’s art scene?

There’s no such thing as high and low-brow here. It’s relatively easy to fit into a scene, and meeting the city’s many famous artists isn’t something unattainable. When foreign artists arrive in Belgium, they’ll often have a look at Brussels first. But you do notice quite a large amount of them eventually head to Antwerp because of these dynamics. Stadslimiet (which closed its doors about a month ago) being a perfect example. Luc Tuymans shows his work there, but Vaast Colson and Dennis Tyfus who ran the place, just as easily took first year students from the academy to organise their events and exhibitions over there. Which is incredibly interesting for everyone involved. Including artists like Tuymans, because it keeps them sharp.

Where are you based? How would you describe your neighbourhood?

I’ve been running Base-Alpha from the Borgerhout district of town for almost ten years now. When looking for a venue to open the gallery, I was attracted to this neighbourhood because of its amalgam of strange and unique streets and areas. But artistically, there wasn’t as much to do and see yet. The famous Zuid neighbourhood became too expensive for the many artists living there, and I feel like they’re the first one who discovered Borgerhout. This neighbourhood traditionally used to house a lot of domestic industries – which is why many of the houses here have back houses in their gardens – where no one wanted to live, because the area was deemed as a large enclave of immigrants and thus, supposedly dangerous. But for me personally, this was the base for Antwerp’s artistic activity. Where the artists live. And little by little, many other galleries made the move, Zeno X being the most famous example. And as of recently, all of the galleries and art spaces in the area collaborated to create Borger, a nocturnal route along the district’s many artistic initiatives.

A place that truly symbolises the city?

For me personally, it could be Gringos Cantine, by the wharfs. A bit of a bizarre place. It’s a Mexican place, where you traditionally wait for more than an hour by the bar, because no one leaves. All the tables are fully booked every evening. It’s something about the atmosphere that makes people hang around. The first time I went there I was 12 years old – it’s been there forever. And there’ll always be someone you know. The food is simple, honest, quite cheap. Going there, somehow always makes my evenings incredibly productive. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but from the moment I get there, things start moving, the wildest ideas come up.
Photography Miles Fischler