Wednesday

23rd Jan 2019

You can't escape that 'The Future is Europe'

  • The view from Rue de la Loi: A large reminder to europhiles and eurosceptics in the EU quarter. (Photo: European Commission)

Many Belgian locals, tourists, and even EU officials see the European Union district in Brussels as an ugly growth among the city’s townhouses.

A five-lane road that separates the European Commission and EU Council HQs, the Rue de la Loi, is part of the dreary landscape.

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De la Loi is lit up in fancy colours at night as it exits a tunnel at the Schuman roundabout.

That never did much to dispel the gloom, as cars rolled past dull billboards on the Commission’s Berlaymont building.

But the scene changed before the summer break, when giant letters that said “The Future is Europe” suddenly appeared in a mural facing the traffic.

The graffiti painting, by Belgian artist NovaDead, look like they are part of white scaffolding on a 30-metre high wall. They are written on a blue and yellow background with birds flying across.

NovaDead told this website that he wanted to send a positive message because he “loved” the EU quarter despite its critics.

“You can meet people from all kinds of places there, who respect each other’s origins. This cosmopolitan neighbourhood is a hymn to diversity,” he said.

The man who wrote the slogan “The Future is Europe”, Belgian businessman Stephan Sonneville, also told EUobserver: “This is what I really think … We don’t see the good side of Europe often enough”.

Sonneville’s real estate firm, Atenor, owns the building that NovaDead painted.

He said the mural could stay up as long as Atenor carried out renovations, which are likely to take a few months.

He said the EU was important for his children’s futures, as well as for his firm’s and native city’s economic welfare.

The initiative - a mix of private, civil society, and artistic input - comes at a difficult time for the EU due to Brexit and due to divisions on future integration.

Eurosceptics who drive by might be tempted to call it propaganda, but no EU money was used in the project.

Nicolas Morreel of Urbana, a Belgian NGO that took part in the initiative, said that Sonneville’s slogan was “powerful”.

“It forces people to take a position - you either agree or disagree with it”, he said.

"Maybe it [the future] is not Europe in the way it is constructed today, but certainly we have to continue to work together," Morreel said.

Artist speaks

NovaDead worked on the acrylic and aerosol painting for a month, using an elevator to move around the 580 square metre wall.

The yellow and blue colours were inspired by the EU flag, while the birds, two blue tits, represented freedom.

The artist, who is also known for comic book murals and for typographic art, said he shared Sonneville’s point of view.

"Our future is based on freedom, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of movement, peace and security. For more than 60 years, Europe has offered us that,” NovaDead said.

He added that details of the picture were informed by the EU district’s physical appearance.

"When you look at Rue de la Loi from the Schuman roundabout, you have vertical, horizontal, oblique lines. The typography has been modelled on this to integrate the mural into the urban landscape. Each letter is composed of tile pieces, put into perspective. The assembly of these tiles is an allegory of the European puzzle, its countries, regions, peoples,” he said.

Graffiti energy

Graffiti is the right medium for the “Europe” mural because of its symbolism.

The artform inscribes the identities of individuals into the political and physical landscape, by placing people’s signatures on walls, trains, and subways, he said.

By contrast to the EU billboards, the Congo-born artist's mural has the energy of an urban subculture.

He said graffiti artists are a “secret tribe” with their own codes, etiquette, and calligraphy. And now they seem to be bringing life to the EU capital.

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