April 19, 2016 / 10:32 AM / 3 years ago

New art museum seeks to shed dangerous image of Brussels' Molenbeek

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A new art museum has opened its doors in Brussels’ Molenbeek district hoping to help shed the negative image of the area, most recently linked to the deadly attacks in Paris and the Belgian capital.

Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA) is based in a former brewery on the banks of Brussels’ industrial-era canal.

A poor area with a large Muslim population and high unemployment, Molenbeek has long been considered locally as being on the wrong side of the canal.

More recently, it has been in the international spotlight as a breeding ground for a radical and violent version of Islam and home to the men who carried out the November Paris attacks.

These include Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected planner of the attacks, and Brahim Abdeslam, who blew himself up in November at Paris’ Comptoir Voltaire cafe. His brother, Paris attacks suspect Salah Abedslam, was caught in a Molenbeek police raid last month.

Originally due to open on March 23, a day after the Brussels attacks in which 32 people were killed, the museum welcomed its first guests over the weekend.

“The project has been to use art as a medium for social cohesion and so to have contemporary art that is accessible,” artistic director Raphael Cruyt said.

The 100-year-old red-brick brewery was built when Molenbeek was known as “Little Manchester”, after the British industrial city, and where Cruyt said worker protests and riots were regular occurrences.

“The history of Molenbeek 100 years ago has been, I find, echoed today because once again we find ourselves in a situation where Molenbeek is ... seen as a dangerous place,” Cruyt said. “And yet it’s here that the future of Brussels is unfolding.”

Alongside a permanent collection, the museum aims to showcase two temporary exhibitions a year.

Currently an array of colorful works by artists Maya Hayuk, Swoon, Momo and duo Faile are on display for its first temporary exhibition “City Lights”.

Some 4,000 people walked through MIMA’s doors over the weekend, according to a press official, including Molenbeek resident Monica Estebanez, 23.

“It allows people to come and see a completely different perspective on this area, about which there are a huge number of prejudices,” she said. “So I think it could be a great thing.”

Reporting by Miranda Alexander-Webber in Brussels; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Tom Heneghan

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