The Boghossian Foundation has been housed in the beautiful Villa Empain in Brussels for the past five years. It now embraces a new era under the leadership of a – totally renewed – team. We decided to meet this international and intrepid squad.
First change at the helm, with Louma Salamé as the new general manager. With a smart head, and a friendly demeanour, the young Louma was born in 1981 and already boasts a career path that fully justifies her appointment at the head of a family foundation – she happens to be the niece of Jean Boghossian. A graduate of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (Paris), Louma Salamé has held various prestigious positions, including independent curator and communications officer for the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi. Her mind attuned with the philosophy of Villa Empain, which aims to connect the East with the West-, Louma Salamé intends to complement this bridge spanning the gap between two civilisations by opening new prospects towards other social groups, other forms of art, other ways to access culture.
“I have the great pleasure of being the linchpin in the real transformation this venue is undergoing. I manage the team, the budget, and I deal with patronage and sponsorship,” the director explains. Her ambition is to make the Villa Empain self-sufficient thanks to its social, cultural and political links. In order to achieve this, the Villa’s team needs to network with local and international actors to also change the type of public visiting the exhibitions. Also to facilitate inclusion, Louma Salamé wishes to open up pathways for the younger generation and the economically disadvantaged public. Several exhibitions, lecture cycles, debates around geopolitical issues, music and dance performances, etc. will bring life to every room in the house. “We could organise such an exhibition around the issue of the intangible, immaterial and invisible line that separates us, supported by educational activities and conferences, and by giving a voice to the actors we hear less,” adds the director.
Having adopted such an innovative standpoint, the team felt it should enlist the help of an artistic director of international fame: Asad Raza. With Pakistani roots, Asad Raza is from New York and successfully wears multiple hats, as a producer, writer, exhibition designer and… artist. His experimental vision when designing an exhibition far exceeds the conventional setups we are used to seeing. The sensory experience that he has put together for us reveals his knowledge of literature and cinema and his passion for contemporary dance. When we wonder about his motivation for coming to Belgium, which despite being the capital of Europe remains a very small country, Asad Raza enthusiastically explains that he fell in love with the Villa Empain. “This place is grandiose and there is life in it! I view this venue as a house, where every room is occupied, as opposed to a museum.” He believes that Brussels, due to its position in Europe and especially the fact that it is a melting pot of races and cultures, is ideal to carry out experiments.
“In contrast to Paris, Brussels is extremely dynamic; it encourages creativity in a sprawling manner which includes various social strata, and supports private initiatives, and blows off the cobwebs in public institutions. Brussels is full of people with ideas; the ease of organisation and freedom available here is unique,” adds Louma Salamé.
Asad Raza wants to open up the East-West dialogue by adding to it the interaction between young and old, the North and South of Belgium, between the various art forms. He immediately imagines the input of choreographers in visual art exhibitions: “Belgium has always been connected with the world of dance. I was astounded by the quality of the performances given at La Monnaie or Kaaitheater.” The house has also opened a residency where architects, recording studios, stage directors, visual artists and many more will rub shoulders… When we visited his first exhibition entitled Répétitions which just opened, we were amazed to discover two people sitting across from each other at a desk, one working on a film, the other creating a soundtrack. These artists were occupying one of the rooms included in the visit. I finally understood everything that Assad had told me before: his desire to allow life and creation everywhere into the Villa Empain, through all kinds of avenues. Decompartmentalize, open up, allow skills and aspirations to intermingle, while including the public! The public is now a fully-fledged participant in artistic activity.
For his first exhibition here, Asad Raza explores the theme of repetitions/rehearsals, those which end up causing accidents, whether symbolic or real, artistic or conceptual. Each selected work has an underlying story and we perceive immediately the originality of the artistic direction in the way the works are relocated, the pieces are commissioned from independent artists, especially in this room resonnating with the entrechats of a mesmerizing dancer, choreographed by Andros Zins-Browne. We will get back to this at greater length.
The artists’ residence is located in the little house next to the Villa’s magnificent swimming pool. “We want the house to be fully alive, a kind of laboratory, an incubator for creative energy and interactions, opened to any public, any culture,” concludes the artistic director.