Made in BXL

Brussels mag N°16


Multicultural Brussels as seen by Louma Salame


Originally Lebanese, she has lived in New York where she collaborated with the Guggenheim Museum, and also in Paris. Three years ago, this director of the Boghossian Foundation arrived in Brussels with her son. This was an enjoyable meeting with an expat, who uses the Belgian expression “à tantôt”, who is a fan of Belgian humour and who has multiculturalism inscribed in her DNA.

Tell us what it was like when you arrived in Brussels:

“I came to live in Brussels when I accepted the position at the Villa Empain. I chose to live in the Ixelles cemetery neighbourhood, close to the museum. When I am not visiting artists’ studios in Brussels or elsewhere in Belgium, that’s where you will find me. Prior to this, I spent several years in New York, Paris, Berlin, Luxembourg and Qatar. One of the things that I like about Brussels is the size of the city. Together with my son, we have created a number of small rituals, such as strolling to the Flagey market on Saturday morning, followed by a walk around the ponds. When you arrive in a new town, being able to feel at home very rapidly is an absolute luxury.”

Exactly what is it that you like about Brussels?

“The size of the town, but also the fact that it is very international. Brussels is a ‘world city’. You find many people who are passionate about art and art collectors. Dialogues are rich and varied. There is a very broad offer on the cultural scene in all fields: opera, theatre, music, modern dance… When I visit an artist’s studio, I immerse myself in the life of other neighbourhoods such as Anderlecht, Molenbeek or the Canal district which is developing at a great rate. Brussels is a multi-layered social and cultural feast”

This dialogue among several cultures is at the very heart of the programming of the museum that you are directing:

“I am supported by a small dynamic team. Together, we have developed several initiatives aimed at getting different types of public to meet. I have established the principle of free entry one Sunday per month and have invited the pupils of all the Brussels schools, including those located in neighbourhoods where the local population does not normally visit museums. In addition to the exhibitions that we organise throughout the year, the Villa Empain also hosts conferences and concerts. At the end of the summer, to restart the season, we are organising a Summer Party where there will be different DJs, including Alain Benisty, a Brussels artist who interprets very well this mixed approach and my wish to make the Villa
Empain a real facilitator for encounters.”

What does your day look like?

“I spend quite a bit of time at Rouge-Cloitre, a nature reserve established at the end of the Forêt de Soignes where it is most enjoyable to take a walk, run or just relax. It is also a place open to art where children feel really good. For my 6-year old son, Brussels is so much more than just an adopted city. It is here that he is building all his memories. I adore listening him pronounce typical words from here, such as ‘chipoter’. Next year, he will start to learn Dutch. I am sure that he will get on much better than I am!”

What makes you feel attached to Brussels?

“I love the spirit of the town, the self-mocking attitude of the Belgians, and the quality of life in Brussels; even the ministers have a sense of humour! Whatever social milieu you are in, there is always such a relaxed atmosphere. Relationships between people are much more on an equal basis. Brussels has a real party feeling about it that you will also find in ‘Flamboyant’, the art of living from the 1930s, the flagship exhibition of Villa Empain this spring. We have decided to recreate a house where a wealthy collector of the roaring twenties would have lived. You will find period furniture, works by Matisse and Picasso; we will even be organising Charleston lessons.”

Vibrant, this adjective fits Brussels like a glove, a town that is somewhat untidy and chaotic, but also so very eclectic