The Culture Department of the City of Brussels seeks to create new connections between art and society. In the firm belief that young people have ideas they want to express, our team asked Sylvain Anciaux to lead workshops to help groups of youths turn those ideas into concrete visions. Sylvain Anciaux is a journalist who trained at the IHECS. With expertise in photography, the art of interviewing, video editing and writing, Sylvain has chosen to put his knowledge to use and share it with young people. The JES youth organisation first put him in contact with a group of youths from the five blocks: Brian, Benjamin, Hajar and Saïda. Then, thanks to Yasmina Ben Hammou, youth worker at the MJ Chicago (Chicago youth centre), he met up with the Chicagettes group. An experience-rich story Sylvain has made sure to tell.
Video directed by Brian, Benjamin, Hajar, Saïda and Sylvain as part of the media project
The four young people I worked with know their neighbourhood like the back of their hand and love it with all their heart, so they were keen to talk about it. In terms of dynamics, taking part in a competition and getting feedback from professionals was important, as was the desire to pay tribute to the five blocks and to those who bring them to life. I would also like to thank Océane Lestage, mediation assistant for the City of Brussels, for the precious help she has given to the project and to the cohesion of the team.
“I learned that it wasn’t just a question of demolishing the five blocks. There’s a lot more at stake here. That’s when I started digging deeper and found out that some of the residents were going to be rehoused in areas far from the centre, even though that was where they had always lived. Not to mention that some of them had been living in homes with broken windows for a long time. You soon come to realise that the living conditions are unsanitary. I’ve learned all this through meeting others. […] I think if I had to do it all over again, I’d would, but I’d look at it from a different angle. It wouldn’t just be an informative video, but rather a protest.” – Hajar
However it would be wrong to reduce the Chicagettes’ project to a simple article published in a quarterly magazine. The most enriching part was to be found in the meetings, where discussions with young girls (almost) my age, and from different socio-cultural backgrounds, took place. Since we first met, everyone in the group, including me, has grown and learned from one another. While they might not all have taken part in the finished product, the exchanges that took place over the course of the year definitely contributed to it.
Initially, the women’s goal was to put together a small documentary series on the struggle of women in the face of police violence suffered by their loved ones. While the Chicagettes’ initial project never actually reached completion, they did, however, learn to take a journalistic approach in the treatment of a subject. Thanks to Yasmina Ben Hammou, for providing that spark of energy and for making this year of work all the easier.
Les Chicagettes is a collective of girls from the Chicago neighbourhood and its surrounding area. Together, Yousra, Myriam, Meryem and Imane actively participate in the socio-cultural life of this neighbourhood, which is located between the Yser and Sainte-Catherine metro stations. The four women embarked on a project to show how police violence affects the women and girls close to its victims. For a year and a half, they met with different people with varying degrees of experience with this topic. There was Petya, a Brussels deputy; Latifa, founder of the Madrés collective; M, a policeman; J, a retired policeman with personal experience of Committee P, the Permanent Oversight Committee on the Police Services; and A, whose family life was impacted by police violence.
The group met several times a month to discuss, debate, and attempt to create a media project based on their experiences. Then, upon seeing the advert in Medor, a quarterly magazine which organises an “inclusion scholarship” each year, I suggested that the girls submit their entry, and the magazine’s editorial staff picked them. This meant that the video project would have to become a written project, and the Chicagettes had to split their various projects between them. It fell to Myriam to work on this topic.
“These moments made a real impact, because I was someone who didn’t get out of the house much. The workshop with the Chicagettes and Sylvain really opened me up to the world. I enjoyed my extra-curricular activities so much that I’ve continued to do more and more of them. Today I’m an ambassador for a women’s leadership initiative.” – Myriam
In the end, these were two completely different experiences. On the one hand, the five blocks group already had a good grasp of filming and telling the story of the world around them. What they needed was technical assistance, to find a structure. And the impact in the neighbourhood, on other young people, the Social Cohesion Project, and the street workers, was palpable.
The Chicagettes, on the other hand, needed a framework that would allow them to take a subject, deconstruct its prejudices, learn how to research and investigate, and then compare it with other realities. Here, the impact of the work was felt primarily on an individual level, more in terms of personal development.
At (almost) every meeting with either the youths from the five blocks, or with the Chicagettes, we also took the opportunity to go out into the neighbourhood, armed with polaroid cameras. There were two rules: Take a photograph of a person, and pay attention to the surrounding area. It didn’t matter whether it was a friend, a well-known figure in the community, a worker, students, etc. The important thing was to feature “a face” (or more) and to feel the energy of the place where the shot was taken. It didn’t always work. But, with experience, the young people came to understand that they had to take their time, exchange a few words with the subject, ask them their name, what they were doing there, what they liked about the neighbourhood, etc. Once they did that, they struck gold nearly every time.
With the Chicagettes, in particular, this exercise gave rise to conversations with strangers who, in turn, then went on to take the time to get to know their neighbours. Often, the person photographed asked to see the photo once developed, which takes about a minute. So, for at least sixty seconds, there was a discussion, an exchange. Once a few seconds of awkward silence had passed, the two strangers tried, by reflex, to find common ground to talk about. The most obvious choices in this case were the public space in which they met, local business recommendations, common knowledge, discussions of what they like about the area, or what could be improved. And these exchanges ended up being engraved (forever) on polaroid film…
A huge thank you to Brufête and the team composed of Nancy Galant, Marion Chourane, David Elchardus, Patricia Balletti, Océane Lestage and Romane Beau for their precious support during these many months of work and collaboration.