For four days theatre maker Lucas De Man and film director Gilles Coulier did indeed drag a giant pig from the Dutch border to the quiet West Flemish town of Meulebeke. Why? To celebrate the beginning of the cultural season in West Flanders, which this year focuses on the identity of the West Fleming.
“The pig is an icon symbolising the identity of the West Fleming,” 30-year-old De Man tells me. “Everybody thinks the pig is dirty and stupid, but actually the pig is a very intelligent animal. The parallel with West Flemings is obvious: Everybody thinks they are peasants and not very intelligent, but there is no place in Flanders where you can find more engineers, high-ranked enterprises or star chefs.”
De Man and Coulier were both born and raised in West Flanders. As the two travelled from town to town with their golden pig, they asked other former West Flemings to come and help. They also asked non-West Flemings to come and share their thoughts.
“Gilles and I wanted to go back to our roots and confront our own prejudice,” De Man says. “At the same time, we asked other Flemings about their views of West Flanders. And what did we find? Most Flemings think West Flemings work hard and don’t say much. I have to admit that is partly correct. We do work a lot. Why? Maybe because we all used to be farmers; maybe because we are the most Catholic province of Flanders.”
As part of the project, De Man created a theatre solo, which premiered last month in Meulebeke. Wij Varkenland: De herinnering, het verlangen en het z(w)ijn, or We, Land of Pigs: The Memory, the Desire and the Pig “tells the story of pig farms and how these have changed from family enterprises into industrial corporations that have nothing to do with farming anymore: the perfect symbol of the changing West Flemish culture.”
A caravan featuring De Man’s solo project, as well as other multi-media performances, will tour West Flanders until the end of November.