Somewhere before the summer of 2021, a call was made for a project with the title ‘ByeBye Leopold, Destination Simonis’. A group of neighbours of the Leopold II boulevard (between Sainctelette and Simonis) were looking for an action that could gather people. Questionning the renaming of the boulevard, since it’s namegiver is considered highly problematic in the (de-)colonisation context, but also about mobility and the use of public space on one of the busiest lanes of the brussels region, sitting on top of a tunnel. A tunnel carrying the same name but due to change… But mainly: it has been renovated to keep cars coming swiftly from the highway right into the center of town.
I got to work with visual artist and St.Lukas teacher Roel Kerkhofs. We quickly concocted the idea of a wooden replica of an existing statue of Leopold II that we would scale down to the size of a car and give it some wooden wheels. So that we could push around slowly from one end of the boulevard to the other, trying to park it every night.
After a construction period of about three weeks, we rolled out our statue onto the boulevard. Pretty quickly we adapted our plans of constantly rolling around to stay put on certain spots where we could reach out to the users of the space: inhabitants as well as passerbyers were sometimes perplexed, vexed, enchanted or enthousiastic to our action. We used the artifact to simply ask questions whilst not pretending to have any answers or preconceptions. Over a period of three weeks driving and hanging around, we also tried to engage people into taking part in a closing event with concerts, free coffee, tea and cakes that were ordered at several bakeries in the area, calling it a baking competition. After a few stretches along the boulevard, we had some regulars hanging around, helping us moving, painting and taking polls: Nourredine and Mouha in the end glued together a pinata, modelled to Leopold’s head that was cracked open on the last day, releasing a load of ‘napoleon’ candy.
As a final act of erasing the stains of history, the statue that was painted with red and black board paint over the course of the three weeks, the whole statue was crayed white and took its final journey down the boulevard, to end up in the freezone of Toestand/Allée du Kaai, next to Tour and Taxi.
The statue got reappropriated but eventually had to be taken down, as homeless people started using it to sleep overnight, while others were always talking of burning it to the ground. Surely a risk no one wanted to take…
A film of this action/project is in the making, check this space soon!