Four contemporary so-called "woke" photos – such as a woman wearing a headscarf – that hang in the stairwell of the Arenbergschouwburg theatre in Antwerp must be replaced by four classical paintings. The decision has been heavily criticised on social media.
The Antwerp city council ordered the theatre to replace the four photos, taken by internationally renowned photographer Mous Lamrabat. They have been hanging in the stairwell since a renovation in November 2022.
But, city councillor for Culture Nabilla Ait Daoud has instructed the theatre to move the photos elsewhere in the building following a request from fellow Flemish rightwing N-VA party member Luk Lemmens.
"It is only right that the classical paintings are again hung in their original place. Why did they have to be changed? There is enough space in the Arenberg," he told Gazet van Antwerpen. "That stairwell has always been like this so I don't see why those paintings should be replaced. Even though they are not protected they do have enormous heritage value."
Lemmens suggested 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."
He emphasised that he has nothing against diversity: "We live in a city that is extremely diverse. As far as I am concerned, those photos can perfectly hang in a different place in the theatre, but not in the stairwell."
The ecological Groen party in the local opposition is has voiced disappointment about the decision. Groen city council member Niel Staes said that "This is typical of the Antwerp city council, the Flemish canon takes precedence for the N-VA over diversity and free speech."
"The old art is more important than opportunities for young artists, they have to take a step back," he said, adding that he will question Ait Daoud at the city council about the decision.