We met Sophie Lauwers, Director of Exhibitions at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium.
Why do Europe-Asia relations matter to you?
The Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels wishes to strengthen its role as a platform for intercultural dialogue, by promoting opportunities for co-creation and co-production in Europe and Asia. It wants to present European and Asian cultures and artistic trends from the past to the present.
BOZAR has been developing relations with Asia since its creation in 1928. Rich and exciting collaborations in varied artistic fields have led to exhibitions and concerts, as well as events in cinema, literature and the performing arts. Among the many events that BOZAR has had the chance to organize with Asian partners, the exhibition A Passage to Asia, 25 centuries of exchange between Asia and Europe – now launched in digital format – holds a very special place in our hearts.
A Passage to Asia has gone digital. What do you think of this format?
A Passage to Asia shows us a history that has stimulated the creation of a shared cultural heritage.
Reviving 18 artworks of the original exhibition through 3D digitization was incredibly exciting. It also resonated in this highly complex sanitary situation, as the notion of “passage” is strongly linked to that of mobility.
Digital projects may not replace the physical experience of art. They are nonetheless an emotional experience and offer ways of engaging with new audiences. It is also an interesting format at a time when the transport of artworks is sometimes questioned because of its environmental impact.
Which ideas were behind the original exhibition concept?
The extraordinary manuscript ‘Anis-al-Hajjaj’ that you can also see in the digital exhibition is a richly illustrated account of the travels of Safi bin Vali Qazvin. He wrote it in the harbour of Surat in India on his return from a visit to the sacred city of Medina. The author describes in great detail the preparations for his journey, his experiences and his encounters.
The journal shows the exchange of ideas, customs and cultures during these pilgrimages.
Together, Asia and Europe form a single gigantic continent, Eurasia. It has an endless variety of landscapes, climates, fauna and flora, as well as a diverse range of peoples and cultures. For millennia, Asia and Europe have had intense relations with each other. With today’s air travel, a “passage” to Asia is only a question of hours. Everything seems easily reached in both directions, east and west. Yet our shared history continues to inspire fascination on both sides.
My typical workday: “Zurbaran, Picasso and a great team”
I have been working at BOZAR for 20 years, including 10 as Exhibition Coordinator. BOZAR’s programme is very diverse. Our main exhibitions are devoted to ancient, modern or contemporary art, often with a confrontation between centuries. We have a section devoted to architecture. We are also interested in new technologies and the relationship between art and science, for example the project with artist Luc Tuymans and artificial intelligence scientist Luc Steels.
My typical workday is punctuated by meetings. We discuss current and future programmes and I also meet artists, curators, directors. The opportunity to organize all these fabulous projects with outstanding personalities means that my motivation is still intact after all these years, as is my desire to continue to provide a platform for the arts in a broad sense.
I was responsible for a wide range of major exhibitions, including Roger Raveel (2021), Keith Haring (2019), Fernand Léger. Le beau est partout (2018), Picasso. Scuptures, Daniel Buren. A Fresco or Theo van Doesburg (2016), Michaël Borremans, Zurbaran, Rubens and his Legacy (2014). We are currently preparing a double exhibition on the fascinating David Hockney.
The pandemic has had a big impact on our programme. The exhibitions had to be closed twice, and several projects were postponed or cancelled. We also suffered a fire at the beginning of the year, which deprived us of one of our main exhibition circuits for the next two years.
I can only cope with the demands of reality now thanks to the time and effort of a great and dedicated team. It is they who brighten my days. I would never be able to complete one of these days on my own!.
Sophie Lauwers is Director of Exhibitions at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium
As Belgium’s oldest and largest house of culture, the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) is an exceptionally dynamic arts centre that welcomes more than 1 million visitors per year. At the heart of BOZAR lies the interaction between diverse audiences, cultural heritage and the imagination of artists. Based on this core artistic mission, BOZAR is also a multidisciplinary centre, an active mediator for socio-cultural change and social inclusion and a model for the European cultural institutions of the 21st century.
The building itself is an extraordinary example of Belgium’s architectural heritage. Imagined by architect Victor Horta in the 1920s, the edifice’s daring modernity – welcoming all artistic disciplines beneath a single roof – still surprises visitors.