Photo of the week: East meets West


Schoolchildren in Beijing welcome Sven Gatz with blonde Jommeke wigs during the Flemish minister’s trade visit to China and Japan

The art of diplomacy

Children at the Baijiazhuang Elementary School in Beijing were delighted this week when a visit from Flemish culture and youth minister Sven Gatz included Jommeke wigs. Gatz has been in Japan and China this week for a cultural trade mission.

The beloved Flemish strip Jommeke just started being translated into Mandarin last year, and Antwerp production company Geronimo took the opportunity of the visit to announce its plans to make a live-action Jommeke movie. Part of the story will be set in China. Hence the delivery of the wigs.

A few other cultural organisations were along on the mission along with Geronimo, including literature organisation Passa Porta and theatre companies Needcompany, LOD, Kopergietery and Toneelhuis. Representatives from Doof Vlaanderen (Deaf Flanders) were also part of the visit.

Gatz started his tour in Japan, where he was present at the European Literature Festival in Tokyo. Japan and Flanders have an excellent diplomatic relationship, going back more than 150 years. The literature festival was co-organised by Arts Flanders Japan, which has an active translation training programme in the city.

Sharing strengths

Also in Tokyo, he joined Doof Vlaanderen for a demonstration of the Pioneer Body Sonic System, a system whereby the hearing impaired can learn the basics of music through a series of vibrations. “In 2020, Doof Vlaanderen is going to host an international deaf culture festival, and we would be delighted to invite Japanese artists,” said Doof Vlaanderen director Filip Verstraete. “But our visit goes further than that. We want to see what we can offer the Japanese community and what they can offer us. For instance, we excel in interpreting performances, while they excel in the use of new technologies.”

Flanders’ theatre companies, meanwhile, met with counterparts in Japan. While it can be a tough market to break into for theatre – it’s expensive to travel there but also very cultural different – Flemish productions are beginning to get a foothold. Youth theatre Kopergietery is working together on a Flemish-Japanese co-production it plans to launch in 2020.

It’s very helpful to have an arrangement with the government itself in order to arrange co-productions

- Sven Gatz

In China, Gatz visited students learning Dutch and met with Chinese minister of culture Luo Shugang, with whom he signed a culture co-operation agreement. The agreement covers a few specifics, explained Gatz, “such as that Chinese artists can come to Brussels and Antwerp for residencies and that Flemish artists won’t experience problems in getting visas to visit China”.

There are also plans for TV and film co-productions. “It’s very helpful to have an arrangement with the government itself in order to carry that out,” Gatz explained. “If it’s an important to the government that it happens, it’s easier for the cultural sector to realise concrete projects.”

While international trade missions are often carried out by Flanders and Belgium – there is one in Morocco this week, for instance – this was the first mission with a focus on culture ever carried out by the government of Flanders.

Photo: Maarten Weynants/BELGA