The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Shamisa Debroey

Shamisa Debroey

Comic artist and cultural organiser (1989)

Can you describe what you do?

I am an illustrator and comic artist living and breathing in Mechelen. My studio and home is situated close to the train station. It is close to the Vaart and the train takes me to my friends in other cities, so I love living there. You can easily spot where I live, because I have a huge drawing on my front window (hey, free advertising). It is a reflection of my vibrant and happy personality!

In my daily life I am mostly a hermit. I love drinking chai lattes, eating bread from Broodbroeders with some fresh avocado, reading emails and drawing with my cats sitting right next to me.

Even though I’ve lived  in Mechelen my whole life, I only recently became comfortable here. Until recently, art was mostly invisible in this city, and local artists kept to themselves as a result. But now with new policies, funding and hotspots, it looks like those days are gone. My first time really meeting kindred spirits was at H30 almost a decade ago. A lot of the people I met there are still my friends and still inspire me.

How do you perceive Mechelen? 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?

Mechelen as a city is now trying everything for the first time, so to speak. We are trying to become the best version of ourselves, with new bars, new meeting spots, new ideas. And there’s a communal vibe where everybody really wants to change our city for the better. We are coming together, and building together.

I think in a way you can compare Mechelen to Leuven, but more diverse. Mechelen is a colorful and ‘young’ city. There is a community of people from all walks of life. But sometimes I think we miss the gravity of a city like Leuven, which is more of a university town. On paper, we have everything to become a culturally vibrant city: an active cultural centre, great theatre houses, the art lab H30 for the younger generation, and Artenova for artists who need more space to be independent. But sometimes, we still miss the “edginess” of Antwerp or Brussels.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Mechelen is made by its people, and the fact you can walk, bike, or take the bus to so many lovely spots is certainly unique. It’s a friendly place where you can peacefully walk your dog, shop ecologically, drink a coffee and have a Maneblusser beer at a cheap price..

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

It used to be ‘not-done’ to tell other people you were from Mechelen. It had the reputation of being a grimy, ugly city where it was unsafe to walk at night. Unfortunately, it contributed nothing to who I became as an artist, because there was no art there that could change me. I’d rather say that living close to the Vrijbroekpark and watching my grandfather paint roses there made me who I am today. That park was my life. Nowadays, I am proud to say I am from Mechelen, because the city offers me so many opportunities to bloom. And it’s a safe place to come back to.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

We need more artistic projects that can be realised without the help of the city, and more loose-cannon-creativity. We should show more love for our local hiphop scene. Finally, there have to be less expensive stores! Mechelen needs to find more ways to reach all walks of life. I am very afraid that our city is pushing away those who don’t fit the yuppy mould.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

Go for a walk by the Dijle, ending up in Zapoi or any bar at Vismarkt. Climb all the steps of the St. Rumbolds Tower.

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

All the Mechlinians trying to put out the fire of St. Rumbold, that story never gets old!