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Belgium: in Ghent, Saint Nicholas will ultimately not be a black woman

Christmas decorations are lit in the suburbs.

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Belgium: in Ghent, Saint Nicholas will ultimately not be a black woman

Christmas decorations are lit in the suburbs. Everyone holds their breath: December arrives, and its procession of controversies on the thousand and one ways of breaking more or less subtly with the traditional spirit of this celebration whose fault is to have been born before the era of diversity , inclusion and recycling. As a warm-up tour, environmentalist municipalities are doing their best to revisit with controversial taste the festive clothes with which they adorn the streets of their city - this year, it is Nantes which has stuck to it. But the real kick-off of the match was whistled in Belgium, in the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent, where Saint Nicholas almost became... Queen Nikolah.

The municipality was in fact the subject of controversy on social networks, for having scheduled the arrival of the artist Laura Nsengiyumva on Saint-Nicolas Day, December 6. This, reports the media 7 sur 7, “questions the classic boundaries between cultures and genres”. A biographical note from a contemporary art museum in the city of Ghent, the SMAK, further specifies about the artist that she “explores the themes of the diasporic experience, hidden histories, North-North relations. South and empathy [...] through images and interventions in colonial spaces. As when for her work “PeoPL”, in 2018 she melted an ice statue bearing the image of King Leopold II, who was king of the Belgians at the time of the colonization of the Congo.

As Saint Nicholas remains relatively unsuspected of having been involved in Belgian colonization in Africa (the bishops having inspired the legendary figure of this saint who lived in the 3rd and 6th centuries), something else had to be found. The artist didn't need to look far: Saint Nicholas is an old white male, so there's nothing like a reincarnation as a young black woman to distill a little inclusion into the festivities surrounding this retrograde character.

Thus Laura Nsengiyumva imagined the character of “Queen Nikolah”, the deconstructed counterpart of the archaic competitor of Santa Claus. 200 people registered for the event to get to know this alternative Saint Nicholas, but his arrival was ultimately canceled by the municipality, a few minutes before the municipal council meeting on Monday October 27, which promised to be stormy for the majority led by the liberal mayor Mathias De Clercq (Open Vld).

The latter indicated that he was not informed of the initiative when it was decided. And deplored to the HLN media “a bad debate that benefits no one”, adding: “if you want to be an inclusive and diverse city, you must attract people and not repel them”.

His deputy in charge of international solidarity Hafsa El-Bazioui, whose services were at the origin of the event, made up his mind - while confiding his regrets. “In the context of an open debate on inclusion, this is a valuable initiative. This artist points out to us that there should be more room for girls in visible roles at a children's party,” she initially said. Before specifying all the same that “the city hall is not the best place for this. The organizer will look for a better location for this worthwhile event. Without a doubt, he deserves a place in our city.”

She further specifies that children who own books with outdated illustrations and stereotypical images can still exchange them on December 6 for a more contemporary book on the story of Saint Nicholas, taking into account various sensitivities.

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