The church of Saint John the Baptist in the Brussels Beguinage, not too far from Place Sainte-Catherine, has been occupied by more than 150 undocumented immigrants ever since January 30th, 2021. In its recent history, it has not been the first time that a group of women, men and children have taken over the church as a battlefield with one common goal: the regularisation of all undocumented immigrants in Belgium.
In 1998, the "Coordinating Committee of people without papers" occupied the church for the first time. In 2021, the group changed its name to the "Union of people without papers". In essence, their demands are the same, nothing has really changed for them. At the beginning of February, the idea of creating an artistic project with them around their political beliefs emerged. A friend, occupier himself and activist, helped me to develop the context of the project: “If you want to start a project, talk to the women. They suffer as much as we do, but in silence."
The women in the church. I hadn't seen them yet. Hidden in the back, behind walls of sheets and cardboard boxes. Women who seemed quiet, but who had so much to say. Women I did not know and did not know how to approach. My friend helped me to get in touch with them. He led me to that secluded, intimate space, where the breath of sisterhood blew, all the way to the back of the church.
I offered nothing.
I just sat down, picked up my brush and paper.
They took turns sitting down, wanting to tell their story.
None of the occupiers live in the church. It is only their place of struggle. The first time I went back there, I recognized faces I had seen before. They told me how proud they were to be part of the struggle, about their hopes of winning the battle, the power of being together, of being stuck in one place, for the same goal. The first time was over 2 months ago.
Writing workshop with the women of the Béguinages, written portraits. February-March 2021
Ninon Mazeaud, visual artist and story editor, https://ninonmazeaud.cargo.site .