/ BLACK KING OF FLANDERS
My home country, Belgium, is divided into a French-speaking region called Wallonia, a Flemish/Dutch-speaking region called Flanders and a small German speaking region. All three regions and communities promote their unique identity and culture. Some Flemish people even see Flanders as a nation within Belgium. Therefore I will use the term "Flemish nation" to refer to Flanders. For decades both regions of Belgium, like many Western countries and regions, have experienced major demographical changes. +/- 2050 is seen as a pivotal moment in which the so-called white population, that used to be the majority group in Western countries, will become one of many minority groups within their national borders. This phenomenon is called superdiversity. Flanders is becoming a superdiverse society and the Flemish identity will no longer be defined by the identity of the white Flemish population. That cultural and ethnic diversity is becoming the DNA of the new Flemish identity. From now on, Flemish cultural symbols must represent that (super-) diversity.
The Flemish nation has two main cultural symbols. The first one is the Flemish flag, called de Vlaamse Leeuw (the Flemish Lion), depicting a black lion on a yellow background. The second one is the founding myth of the Flemish nation described by the famous Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience in his historical novel "Leeuw van Vlaanderen" (the Lion of Flanders). This novel describes the appearance of an enigmatic knight that saves the Flemish nation from the French invaders in 1302. That knight, who possesses supernatural powers and is wearing a golden armour, is called the Lion of Flanders, referring to the black lion on the Flemish flag. The black lion of Flanders represents Flemish strength and unity that will save Flanders from any threat and bring prosperity and peace.
Most of the Flemish nationalists and all members of the Flemish far-right movement consider these symbols the holy grail of the Flemish nation. They should only be used by people of pure Flemish descent. Meanwhile the (ab)use of these symbols by Flemish nationalists and the Flemish far-right movement give the black Lion of Flanders a negative connotation.
With the LION-project, I reappropriate these symbols because it is my right as a a Fleming and because it is my duty to propagate the beauty and strength of Flemish culture and identity. I use these symbols for the reason they were invented, namely to unify the Flemish nation and not to divide the nation. Cultural symbols, such as flags or founding myths, shouldn’t be treated as monuments representing old ideals, but used as tools to transmit a new societal vision based on diversity.
This project is a reflection on Flemish identity in this context of (super-) diversity in Flanders, based on my experience as a person of Flemish and Congolese origin; the perspective of the historical and cultural relationship between Congo (DRC) and Flanders and the concept of Afropeanism.
The definition of Afropeanism: "Afropeanism is an attitude that cherishes and values hybridity, intercultural encounters, multilingualism, transnationality and cosmopolitanism. It does so through the prism of African-European relations throughout history and challenges the blackness/whiteness discourse’s ambiguity that still permeates current perceptions of identity and difference. Afropeanism is an antiracist and anti-essentialist ideology of encounter, knowledge-sharing and prejudice-awareness that bridges the apparently unbridgeable and that points to the common past, present and future of so-called ‘black’ and ‘white’ people, and by extrapolation of the whole human race." (Sibo Kanobana & John K Cobra)
LION is an attempt to review and to reconstruct Flemish identity, culture and history by integrating Congolese culture, identity and history. Congo and Flanders share a common history since colonisation. Congo is an unmistakable part of Flanders.This exercise is a first attempt to develop a (super-) diverse Flemish identity, starting with combining Congolese identity with Flemish identity. This is just a first step toward integrating many other cultures, identities and histories into one Flemish identity. An almost impossible task, but an important reflective exercise.
My functional and enriching Flemish-Congolese identity is the proof that overcoming differences and opposites is possible and liveable. Thanks to the concept of Afropeanism, this Flemish-Congolese experience is elevated to an Afropean experience.
This exercise is based on historical and cultural facts, but also inspired by fiction. Nations, cultures and identities are abstract concepts founded on strong narratives inspired by facts and imagination (fiction).
The LION-project was developed in two phases. Phase 1 (from 2011 to 2013) and Phase 2 (from 2014 to the present).