Track #11: The Colonial Medusa: Funding Belgium’s Neo-Classical Myth
“Medusa, building stone walls out of human flesh” - If Tomorrow’s Not Her, Denzel Curry
In 1885, Leopold II laid claim to the colonial Congo Free State and began a process of systematic ecological extraction through the murder, mutilation, and rape of the Congolese people to enrichen his own family. In order to launder this blood money, Leopold II transformed Brussels into a city of glass, marble, and Parisian promenades. He expanded the royal palace and funded the building of the Parc du Cinquantenaire, a triumphal arch, and the Avenue Louise to mark the 75th anniversary of Belgium’s independence in 1905. These new structures such as the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken created idealized visions of Belgian colonialism, as propaganda against the brutal reality of his régime. The Belgian Africa Museum continued Leopold II’s exploitative tradition by holding human zoos until 1958, two years before Congolese independence. While the names of the colonial White Belgians who died in the Congo have long been etched into the walls of the Museum, those native Black Congolese that died in these human zoos were dumped into unmarked graves and erased from Belgium’s collective memory, along with those millions more men, women, and children who were tortured and murdered under Leopold II’s rule.
Today, these monuments serve as the backdrop for nationalists who venerate them as Belgium’s traditional architectural heritage. At the same time, Black and Brown Belgians are deemed “outsiders” and “foreigners” to these spaces and the country itself. Perversely it is often these Belgian’s ancestors who were murdered and maimed to fund these Neo-Classical dedications to a colonialist myth. A popular motto has since been adopted by these minority communities to explain why they call colonial nations - like Belgium, home: “We are here because you were there.”