Last week I visited the Witches exhibition in Brussels (Belgium), organised by the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles). An entire exhibition about witchcraft and witches, I knew in advance that I was gonna enjoy it but it really went beyond my expectations. So I decided to write a little blogpost about my visit and show you some images from the exhibition. The exhibition closes by the end of this week so make sure to visit if you can!
The exhibition looks at witches and witchery throughout the ages (all through a Western/European lens though). It delves into historical findings which include artefacts about the witch hunts and persecutions and highlights feminist activism that is inspired by the image and history of the witch. The role of the witch in popular culture (films, children’s books, comics, dolls, games, old prints, etc) is shown as well as a variety witchcraft practices from the past and present. I loved this variety of approaches which all interest me a lot. It felt very intense to stand face to face with the books that encouraged and led to the witch hunts and with hand-written documents that detailed the persecutions. But these tragic moments (that happened in renaissance times, not the medieval ages as is often wrongly claimed) were surrounded by a reclaiming of the image and practice of the witch. Whether it’s the bravery, defiance, and resourcefulness of feminist activism – from the suffragettes via W.I.T.C.H. to contemporary feminist protests – or the tools and wisdom of witchery – from herbal medicine to divination – these sorceresses are far from gone.
Something I would have liked to see more of in the exhibition is local witch-inspired feminist activism. Stuff like that is not just happening in the US or Paris… Of course the exhibition offered space for Belgian folklore like witch towns, carnival costumes and puppets, and a great selection of beautiful children’s books but witchy feminists exist out here too. For example, there have been Hexennachten (“Witch Nights”) to protest gendered violence in Ghent since the mid 90s, organised by FAM, FEL, and Queerilla (and there was one planned in March 2020 but you know what happened…) and the Reclaim the Night marches in Brussels have always incorporated witchy imagery. In the 1970s there even existed a lesbian-feminist collective called Liever Heks (“I’d rather be a Witch”) in Ghent. As for culture, I was happy to see artwork by the amazing anarcha-feminist silk-screen artist Léa but more local (counter-culture) artists who use witchery, queerness, and rebellious feminism in their art, films, and music could have been included. When mentioning music, I’m not just talking about my own band Lavender Witch but there are many more bands including Baby Fire and Bengal whose songs reclaim witchery. And of course there are also local zinesters writing about witchcraft, queer-feminism, and magick. So more local stuff would have been cool to make it more of a “here and now” thing that will inspire even more participation and activism in the near future.
Anyway, don’t let this stop you from visiting! There will always be things missing from any exhibition and I found that Witches has a LOT to offer and is definitely worth a visit. So hurry, because this is the last week it’s open! A bonus: the exhibition’s catalogue is for sale and available in three languages (French, English, Dutch). It’s a beautiful publication to keep your memories of the exhibition close.
Here are some photos I took last week:
Posters from Belgian witch towns and a gigant puppet:
Feminism and witchcraft in contemporary art by artists including Benoit Huot, Léa, Barbara Kruger, and Laura Pérez:
Some objects and tools used in witchcraft and magick: