Brussels Highlights w/ Marie Umuhoza

As we connect via video call, Marie Umuhoza appears on our computer screen, situated in an office at Decoratelier—the Molenbeek-based, constantly evolving project where she serves as a curator and coordinator. The backdrop of her video call window reveals the venue's old industrial scenery, replete with scaffolding, a view that's emblematic of the canal area where Decoratelier presently operates. This setting could easily pass for one of those videocall app background presets, standing alongside options like a Japanese garden or a design office, epitomizing a cultural project in temporary occupation. 

Soon, Decoratelier will have to vacate its current location, marking the end of an era for Marie as well. Before the final event takes place, Decoratelier has an exciting program remaining, with Marie and her colleagues preparing to showcase a rich array of events. Marie is not only active as curator of the artistic program at Decoratelier; she is also recognized as an active and inspiring cultural voice in the city today. She describes herself as a multidisciplinary creative producer, curator, writer, and thinker, contributing to the vibrant cultural landscape of Brussels.

At Decoratelier, Marie played a pivotal role in hosting "Spending The Night" in 2022. This experimental series comprised six unique parties, each co-organized with artists, collectives, or projects, inviting them to reinterpret the concept of a night. The collaborations spanned a wide array of elements, from the lineup and house rules to the bar offerings, entry fees, visual identity, and scenography, among others. Each event left its distinct imprint on the attendees, transforming into moments of introspection and learning. Reflecting on these experiences, Marie shares her insights into audience dynamics: "For me, audiences are inherently diverse, each displaying a wide range of identities; there's never just one homogeneous group. The collectives and their communities particularly impressed me with their ability to forge strong bonds and create a sense of communal strength during these events."

Marie's exploration of contemporary nightlife forms fosters a nuanced relationship with the established, more traditional players in the scene, like Fuse, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024. "My first visit to Fuse was at 15. Filled with expectations shaped by the UK club scene, which I found very appealing at the time, I discovered that a club, or 'une boite' in French - a box - aptly describes Fuse. It's a pre-defined space with predetermined paths, designated areas for dancing, and others for relaxation. This experience left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, surprised by the limited freedom and trust afforded to guests. At Decoratelier, the atmosphere is markedly different. While we organize certain aspects to ensure a seamless experience, we place a great deal of trust in our audience, believing in their ability to engage with the space, the music, and fellow attendees. This collective engagement shapes the night."

At Listen Festival’s previous edition, Marie joined a panel talk during the festival’s Our Scene program focusing on “Safe(r) spaces in nightlife”, hosted by Som•m•e Of Us, an independent multidisciplinary collective of black curators. Regarding her connection with the festival, Marie is keen to share her insights: "The festival's slogan, 'united in diversity,' resonates mostly through the 'Our Scene' program. While some might refer to it as a side program, to me, it represents the heart of the entire festival. It transcends the immediate excitement of an event, a night, or a party, by focusing on the processes, communities, and individuals who support and sustain it. We're currently experiencing a period of collective awareness and recognition of diverse realities and the ways in which we navigate them. I firmly believe that 'Our Scene' deserves a prominent place in the festival's lineup, bringing deserved attention to the discussions, workshops, and the magazine. Although the live music and parties might traditionally be the focal points of a festival, the 'Our Scene' component is equally, if not more, vital."  

Marie generously collaborated with us on her Brussels Highlights. When asked how long she has considered Brussels her home, she reflects on the concept of ‘home’ itself, pondering its meaning: "I've just returned from a month in Nairobi, Kenya, my birth country. Yet, before this trip, I hadn't referred to it as home. So, the notion of home is complex for me, and I don't have a straightforward answer—perhaps I never will. My parents are Rwandan and sought refuge in Kenya during the genocide, where I was born. Later, I found what could be called home in Tournai and now in Brussels. I've been here for eight years, discovering senses of home, people, and places that evoke a feeling of belonging. However, I'm uncertain if I would call Brussels 'home.'"

Food: Cassonade

Cassonade is a solidarity kitchen and a meeting place at the Rue de Manchester in Molenbeek, merely a stone's throw from Decoratelier.  

Marie: "It began two years ago as a solidarity kitchen during Ramadan, preparing meals for individuals lacking resources or seeking companionship for the Iftar meal. They also assembled food boxes delivered to homes by local youths, some of whom we've collaborated with at Decoratelier. This immediate connection to Cassonade was palpable. A few months post-Ramadan, they commenced serving daily lunches, swiftly becoming our go-to canteen. I adore everything about it: the concept, the food,  the team behind it, the vibrant energy, and more. Last year, we even partnered with them on a project."

Music: Decoratelier

Marie's decision to highlight Decoratelier, the itinerant cultural initiative led by visual artist Jozef Wouters, as one of her Brussels standouts was a clear one. Intrigued, we asked why she placed it in the 'music' category.

Marie: "With Decoratelier's impending closure, I find myself deeply reflecting on its impact on my life. This project has profoundly influenced my personal development, refining my tastes and stoking my curiosity. I chose Decoratelier for the 'music' category specifically because of the club space, which doubles as my office. There, alongside my colleague Vincent Focquet, I curate the party line-ups. We immerse ourselves in listening to a myriad of artists and DJ mixes, dedicating countless hours to discovery. On event nights, I particularly love ascending to one of Decoratelier's balconies, where I can simply observe the interaction between audiences and artists, or let the bass resonate through me."

Hidden gem: Pepite Blues

Situated close to Flagey in Ixelles, Pepite Blues is a library specializing in Afro literature.

Marie: "I hold a deep affinity for words, both in my capacity as a writer and as a reader. Books are the wellsprings of my inspiration, curiosity, and thirst for knowledge. This is a place that truly merits recognition and visitation. The curated selection of books is exceptional, the owner - Celestina Jorge Vindes -  is immensely supportive, and the venue frequently hosts captivating literary events and discussions. It genuinely encapsulates a world unto itself."

Nature: My rooftop

She’s not really a nature person, Marie admits. At least not in Belgium. However, she eventually identifies a highlight - a familiar spot that residents of large cities might find relatable in some way.

Marie: "My rooftop offers a panoramic view of all Brussels. Located in the Plasky area of Schaarbeek, it's my sanctuary for peace of mind. I moved into this apartment around the same time I began my tenure at Decoratelier, a period that signified a significant change in my life. This vantage point affords me a fresh perspective on the city - the near and the far, my connection to it, and my understanding of its layout. From here, I can see a bit of everything: the Cinquantenaire, the Roger towers, the Justice Palace and much more. It's a place where I can truly see the vastness of the city."

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