In 2021 Moussem will be celebrating its 20th anniversary; since its inception it has navigated an exceptional course. It started in 2001 as a small-scale festival in Antwerp set up on the initiative of citizens who believed in the power of culture to bring together people of different backgrounds and wished to tackle the absence of diversity in the cultural sector of that city. Moussem was a project for cultural participation that arose out of the Moroccan community in Antwerp, but from the very beginning it was open to other groups and initiatives in that city. The focus soon turned to the introduction of performing artists and content linked to North Africa and the Middle East. 2001 was also the year of 9/11, a time when the populations originating from those regions were faced with an increasingly harsh and polarising political discourse and partly hostile public opinion.
On its recognition as a (Nomadic) Arts Centre in 2008, the local focus shifted and Moussem expanded into an international platform at work in the Flemish and European arts scenes. After 15 exciting years in Antwerp, the call of Brussels became too strong to resist. So since 2014 the organisation has been operating from the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. The recent acquisition of a house in Anderlecht signals a strengthening of our roots in this metropolis. As a result, the intensive residency activities and production work, whereby artists are supported in individual projects or on a long-term basis, will increase in importance in the years to come, without giving up the nomadic nature of the arts centre.
For all of its 20 years Moussem has been a pioneer in giving different stories and audiences access to our arts centres. It is essential to Moussem’s work that it maintains a close dialogue on an equal footing with an ever-expanding network of artists, curators, programmers and key figures on the cultural scene at home and abroad. Moussem has developed a well-considered policy of support for young artists, giving them the chance to work on their oeuvres and establish links with the Flemish and international art scenes, and looks for enduring forms of presentation that make room for contextualisation and also guarantee continuity.
In its multidisciplinary Moussem Cities festival, the organisation latches onto a metropolitan context in which to cast light on a particular artistic scene together with both permanent and temporary partners from Brussels. Previous festivals have turned the spotlight on Tunis, Beirut, Casablanca, Damascus and Algiers. In the field of music, there are the annual Sufi Nights and Moussem Sounds events and such thematic series as Tarab and Qanun Dialogues. Moussem introduces into the music scenes in Flanders and Brussels new artists and musical styles that operate outside the closed ‘world music circuit’ but which better represent the variety of non-Western musical expression, and which also connect better with the various diasporas.
In Moussem Repertoire, the organisation introduces plays in Arabic to the Dutch-language performing arts world by translating and publishing them in Dutch, also organising public events that focus on them. We are engaged in setting up a long-term joint venture with MHKA and Mu.ZEE in which exhibitions by artists are linked to a purchase of their work for these museums’ permanent collections. The recent Islam and Critical Thought series is intended to turn the attention to the variety of critical ideas within Islam.
Part of Moussem’s work is also to concentrate on the new generation, especially the highly diverse youth of the metropolis. For instance, we are committed, together with our partners, to set up youth theatre productions, since there is a need for new content and role models in youth theatre too.
For this multifaceted and successful performing arts work, in 2018 Moussem was awarded the Flemish Culture Prize for the Performing Arts.
In contrast to previous years, we shall now be departing from the explicit focus on the MENA region. In this sense our work will be more ‘open’ and will be aimed not only at artists and content that involves ‘openness or a link with the Arab world’. We shall nevertheless be focusing on substantive international exchange, but will approach it from the angle of the metropolitan context of Brussels, Flanders and Belgium. The internationality will be viewed from a basis in the local context itself. In other words, the composition of the city, including its various diasporas, is the starting point for reflection on this exchange and the choice of artists and themes in the content of our work. The expertise in and the links with the MENA region are embedded in Moussem’s DNA and will therefore continue to play a part in its work.