Violence, sexual assault: 18 months suspended sentence for Belgian artist Jan Fabre

Violence, sexual assault: 18 months suspended sentence for Belgian artist Jan Fabre
Jan Fabre's Searching For Utopia, Nieuwpoort. Credit: Emely Vandenputte

A verdict was reached in the case of Belgian artist Jan Fabre on Friday, with a judge handing down an 18-month suspended prison sentence for violence, bullying and sexual harassment at work, and the sexual assault of a woman.

Considered by many to be Belgium’s most famous living artist, Fabre himself was not present at the trial and has always denied the allegations against him.

As part of the sentence, Fabre will also have his civil rights withheld for five years. This means, among other things, that he will not be allowed to vote.

Judge condemns abuse of power

“In its assessment of the offences with which the accused is charged, the court has taken into account the specific context in which these offences were committed,” reads a statement from court. “The court also took into account the fact that artistic freedom is limited by legal provisions for the protection of the physical and psychological integrity of the employees.”

Fabre is said to have abused his position and fame as a renowned artist to, among other things, coerce young women in his studio into "humiliating" nude photoshoots that the court said "had no artistic value," during which he assaulted them.

“The court ruled that the accused acted with the same punishable intent, whereby he repeatedly and personally approached young dancers of his dance company and committed unwanted sexually related acts against them,” the court said.

“By his actions the defendant also created a hostile and humiliating working environment within which his dancers had to function. The court is of the opinion that the defendant, in the context of his artistic leadership, could also have given guidelines in another way, but did not do so.”

A long time coming

The allegations against Fabre first surfaced en masse four years ago after he boasted in an interview that in 40 years, he had never had issues of harassment or transgressive behaviour in his Troubleyn dance company.

A total of 20 former employees, dancers and interns wrote an open letter a few months after the interview saying that there was indeed a problem, and they testified about humiliation, transgressive behaviour and abuse of power.

A life-sized statue that Fabre made of himself was removed from the Antwerp art centre and 12 people initiated legal action against the artist.

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Jan Fabre was not present during the trial or during the hearing of the verdict. However, in a handwritten letter to his lawyer he stated that he never wanted to hurt actors and dancers.

“I sincerely apologise to anyone who feels hurt, to anyone who has felt bad because of me. I wish you the anarchy of love and beauty,” he wrote.

Some of the acts of which he stands accused were declared time-barred by the judge in Antwerp. Various civil parties, including the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, will receive compensation as part of the ruling.

The Public Prosecutor's Office asked for an effective prison sentence of three years. Fabre’s lawyers sought a complete acquittal. The Troubleyn dance company says it has taken note of the judge's ruling and is waiting to see whether Fabre will appeal the verdict.

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