While the discourse about "woke-ness" has been going on for a while, it is now also being felt in Antwerp, as its famous Arenbergschouwburg theatre has been ordered to take down four contemporary photos hanging in its stairwell.
The photos, taken by internationally renowned Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat, have been hanging in the stairwell since a renovation in November 2022. But now, the Antwerp city council ordered the theatre to replace them.
The photos – one of which shows a woman wearing a headscarf – will be replaced by the four classical paintings that initially hung in the stairwell, following a decision by Antwerp city councillor for Culture Nabilla Ait Daoud that has been heavily criticised on social media.
Ait Daoud's party member Luk Lemmens requested the change because he felt that the decision to replace the paintings with contemporary photos was politically motivated: "I cannot help feeling that people are trying to erase our history under the influence of the woke culture and a limited group of intellectuals. We should be proud of our history."
But what is 'woke'?
A recent survey in the United Kingdom showed that half of those surveyed did not know what the term meant, and the other half gave it all kinds of different meanings, sociologist at the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen) Walter Weyns told VRT.
"That is a big problem because it means we are left with a word that does not have an unambiguous meaning," he said. "If people argue about it, a normal, polite conversation becomes very difficult. Woke sometimes functions as a container concept in which people put different things that people reject. "
The discussion has also reached political circles, as Flemish rightwing N-VA leader Bart De Wever has written a book called 'Over Woke' ("About Woke" in Dutch).
"I think that, as a historian, [De Wever] was first and foremost struck by the fact that people are indeed developing a new view of history and that is a view that he does not like," said Weyns, explaining that a so-called "woke" reading of history looks at it from the point of view of the injustices that have been committed, such as colonialisation.
"Someone like Bart De Wever is a Flemish nationalist and wants to be proud of that history. If you then have to explain that it is anchored in a Western history of all kinds of abuses, he is not too happy about it," he added.
However, Weyns explained that being woke simply means being aware of and attentive to all forms of social injustice. "Its origin is difficult to pinpoint, but it was first used in black culture. Then it spread to other movements, such as feminism. Now, the term is often used by minority groups who have been feeling discriminated against in recent centuries."
What do you think? Let @Maajtee know.
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