Flemish city to take down royal portraits in protest of ‘colonial atrocities’

Flemish city to take down royal portraits in protest of ‘colonial atrocities’
An old postcard depicting King Leopold II and the Baroness of Vaughan, the late colonial ruler's most notorious mistress, lavished to such an extent that she became known as the "The Queen of the Congo." Credit: Public domain

The city of Vilvoorde will take down portraits of former Belgian kings from its town hall in a move to promote the city’s diversity over Belgium’s brutal colonial legacies.

Officials in the Flemish city said their decision to remove images of Belgium’s former monarchs was “primarily a protest against the atrocities” committed by Leopold II while he ruled over colonised Congo.

“Vilvoorde was confronted with that horror history a while ago during an exhibition organised here with the Congolese community,” Mayor Hans Bonte said, Metro reports.

The former monarchs’ portraits are set to be replaced with commissioned art pieces which will aim to depict the diversity of Vilvoorde, home to some 40,000 residents.

Only a portrait of the current royal incumbents, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, will remain in the city hall’s banquet room, officials decided.

In 2018, an exhibit titled “Onze Congo – Jullie Congo” (Our Congo, Your Congo) held in a local cultural centre highlighted how Belgian propaganda portrayed Belgium as a benevolent presence in Congo and masked the brutal events that took place under the country’s colonial rule.

“Through sound and image [the exhibit] offers an exploration of how the different propaganda channels were put to work to justify the colonial enterprise,” a presentation of the exhibit, which has been on display in other Belgian cities, reads.

“This exhibit also puts into question the persistence of stereotypes both among the Belgian and Congolese public,” the description continues.

After the decision was unanimously approved on Monday, the mayor of Vilvoorde said that an open call would soon invite artists to make propositions for the artwork set to replace images of Belgium’s former rulers.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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