The Ravenstein Gallery: a paradise for Brussels hip-hop. Or how BOZAR and the Brussels hip-hop scene have (literally) been close neighbours for years.
The Brussels (metro) stations still bear the marks of spinning caps and sliding sneakers. In the 1990s this was where young breakdancers gathered to impress and encourage their peers. Another absolute favourite of the Brussels hip-hop pioneers? The Ravenstein Gallery.
The passage between the Central Station and Centre for Fine Arts became a mecca for the B-boys of Brussels, especially the upper floor of the rotunda, where the marble floor provided the perfect surface and there was a ‘backstage’ area for jackets and bags, or even sockets to plug in sound systems. More than anything, it’s the perfect stage: a public space but still sheltered, visible to a public of thousands of commuters, but not encroaching on their immediate route. The railings clearly marked out the spot. The stage was set.
And the breakdancers were left alone. In the late 1990s the gallery was in a bad state, with a lot of premises standing empty. Property developers paid little attention to this part of urban Brussels. The hip-hoppers could do their thing in peace, except at the time of the Queen Elisabeth Competition. During this most "civic" event of the year, police intervened and the dancers were temporarily evicted.
As is often the case, here too the hip-hop scene is a cultural barometer for urban degeneration - not as its source, but as a vanguard of resurgence. The B-boys therefore paradoxically helped lay the foundations of their inevitable eviction from their hip-hop paradise.
Among the regulars at the Ravenstein Gallery were Najim, AKA 'Power', and Youssef El Toufali AKA ‘Super G’, who became the 2002 breakdance world champion. They were the perfect ambassadors for a Culture Capital of Europe. But it is still too soon, the cultural institutions of Brussels are blind to their art.
BOZAR is one of the engines behind the regeneration of the Ravenstein Gallery. After a legal restructuring of the organization, BOZAR is on the lookout for offices, so it can make the most of artistic spaces that have now partly been taken over by desks.
The vacant offices and former shops looking out on to Ravenstein Gallery's rotunda are a perfect fit. The entrance to the gallery is closed off and the breakdancers’ favourite spot is turned into a new reception area and the entrance to the staff canteen.
Meanwhile, the perception of hip-hop in the mainstream and the art world is shifting. Graffiti artists take over art galleries and in the summer of 2017, the Centre for Fine Arts throws open its doors to Brussels hip-hop. Two worlds that were once so strictly separated finally get to know one another, with a healthy dose of scepticism on both sides. But YO is not the end of that journey, it is only the first step.
For more on the hip-hop past of the Ravenstein Gallery, read the catalogue for YO. Brussels Hip-Hop Generations, on sale at the BOZAR BOOKSHOP.