Can you describe what you do?
Last September, I graduated from the University of Antwerp with a master degree in media studies. After my graduation, I deliberately took some time off for myself to figure out what direction to go next. As I hung around a lot in coffee bars, I spent most of my hours talking to other fellow “sufferers.” One of those talks was with my friend and current partner in crime Joël Diensi. It turned out we shared the same stereotypical love-hate relationship to the whole madness that is media today. About two or three cappuccinos later, I agreed to join his project Versiety Media, an online news platform that above all aims to change the dominant conversation about diversity by alternating serious news with more intimate, personal, positive stories about people who are following their own course. News facts are often framed as a series of single isolated events leaving the deeper-rooted issues and societal context underexposed. We want to bring the bigger picture. We want to bring the stories that have been unrepresented for a very long time. As the editor-in-chief, I’m continuously searching for content that is relevant, on a personal level as well as on a societal level, and that can spark a conversation that was long due. We are based in Antwerp, so we tend to focus on the stories that are mostly based on our immediate surroundings and influences, but we aim to reach far beyond the borders of our beloved city. Versiety Media gives me the privilege of meeting and working with a lot of talented young creatives that a diverse city like Antwerp has to offer. It doesn’t matter whether they are young people with little to no writing skills – I’m more interested in what stories they have to tell and want to provide them with a platform where they can openly speak their mind and be heard.
Where are you based?
I’m currently still living with my parents in Hoboken, a little district located south of Antwerp, just outside the centre of the city. I don’t really spend that much time at home though, I spend most of it in the city. What I love most about my current everyday routine is that I don’t really have one, it changes everyday depending on what project or article I’m working on. I wake up at a different time every day. The only certainty is that I snooze about a half hour in my bed while checking some news and my appointments for the day. Next, I’ll take the bus to the centre of the city where I often find myself working in one of my favourite coffee bars in the city, Butchers Coffee. Ask for a “cinnamannouri” (= cinnamon + my last name Annouri) and you’ll get my signature drink.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
The best way to describe Antwerp’s vibe is as a sort of colourful chaos. The town is a medley of old impressive architecture, cobbled stone streets and cultural sites, alternating with numerous graffiti artwork all over town, flagship stores of Antwerp-born but internationally established fashion designers, Arab, Turkish, Asian and African grocery stores, art-house cinemas, chocolatiers and so on. Antwerp is inhabited by a very different mix of people, from people on a passage to people who have never been anywhere else in their lives. This is precisely why it feels like it’s a bit out of this world. You can easily get lost in the (small) crowds like you can in big cities, but at the same time you walk into a bar and at least recognise two or three people. If you own a bike, it’s the easiest city to stroll around in. Although the public transportation doesn’t run as regularly and smoothly as in a big city, I don’t get that claustrophobic feeling as in London for example.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
When it comes down to it, Antwerp is a really easy city to tap into the creative community. There’s an incredible and infectious entrepreneurial spirit hanging around here. Everywhere around me I see young people analysing certain issues, frustrations, shortages and creatively coming up with their own solutions. It’s inevitable to get inspired and infected with this creative virus. Besides that, Antwerp has a lot of different little communities and creative subcultures. The mishmash of cultural elements forms an infinite pool of inspiration for every creative mind. It’s an interesting practice to examine and blur the lines between these communities and practices. By bridging otherwise unrelated areas, new opportunities arise. Pay close attention to the people and the little details in the streets of Antwerp, allow your mind to be exposed to new fields of knowledge and maybe even creative innovations.
A little bit more green in the city would enable us to escape from the ‘fast’ life a bit and slow down our pace.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today?
The city has always had a special place in my heart. After all, some of my most memorable moments and life-changing experiences have taken place in this city. Antwerp has largely shaped me into the person that I am today. Over the years, Antwerp has become a melting pot of cultures and religions. Like a lot of young people, I grew up in a home where cultures mixed. Growing up, I remember the countless times I had to explain things to my parents that were culturally normal here (for example a sleepover) to which I’d often receive a hard ‘la’ (Arabic for no). Yet my parents were always open for discussions so we learned to find the middle ground. My life and the way I was raised, marks a huge geographical and cultural shift in my family’s history. What I represent is both Zaio (Morocco) and Antwerp (Belgium). I consider myself very lucky to be part of both worlds. I therefore identify as many different things: a woman of colour, a Muslim, an Antwerpian, a Belgian, a Moroccan, a graduate. But it would be a lie to say that some of those elements don’t have any obstacles connected with them.
What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
As a “first-generation,” I feel as though I have a lot to prove. My parents moved here from Morocco to build a better future for their children. You feel this kind of pressure to be that success story. I always did and still am navigating through these cultures and somehow created my own. As I grew up, I developed this intense hustle and eagerness to achieve what may come easier to others. Somehow, my diverse background and the strong entrepreneurial spirit Antwerp has to offer have served as the foundation of my guiding and somewhat ambitious life principle: “why can’t I?”. My name, my identities, my city have all shaped me into the person I am today, and I wear it as a badge of honour.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
The chaotic, un-routinely person that I am is someone who works at very different hours of the day. But I still need coffee during these hours. And I often find myself without – fact is, Antwerp doesn’t really have a lot of good coffee places open after 18h00, which I find a real shame. And I really wish there were more “green” places in the city. Places where you would forget that there is a lot of traffic, that you forget about the whole urban life for a moment. A little bit more green in the city would enable us to escape from the ‘fast’ life a bit and slow our pace down. We all need a little moment to reflect.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
It’s very difficult to pick just one spot in the city. I would recommend to wake up very, very early on a Saturday morning, go to the ‘Vogelenmarkt’, get yourself a nice cup of coffee and just start strolling around in the city while it’s still quiet. Some of my favourite moments in Antwerp are the most quiet moments on the street, while the city is still waking up or just about to go to sleep. Because yes, Antwerp is a city that sleeps. We all need a little peace and quite once in a while.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
The oldest skyscraper in Europe is located in Antwerp. I think that’s pretty cool. I don’t think many people living in Antwerp know this fact about the art deco building, known as the Boerentoren. The story behind the name is that at the time the building was constructed, the bank’s main shareholder was the local farmers’ co-operative. It is known that the Boerentoren is modelled after the Empire State Building. I think the Boerentoren is the smaller, sweeter version of it. Just like Antwerp.versiety.com Photography Thomas Ost