During our week in Brussels, we planned to visit the four main sections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, where we would see large collections of works by Belgian artists ranging from the 16th Century up to the current day. But even before making the trip to these museums, we unexpectedly and fortuitously stumbled upon several smaller art exhibits in locations close to our apartment rental that were fascinatingly varied and interesting.
In the documentary, McCurry describes how he initially spotted the girl in the tent of a makeshift school within an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. He was told that she had walked through snowy mountains for two weeks to reach the camp after her parents were killed when their village was bombed. In 2002, he traveled back to that refugee camp, which was about to be demolished to build a housing project. McCurry showed his iconic photo to the local people in hopes of locating the girl. Finding the former teacher at the camp, he was led to a woman who looked quite a bit like the girl. But his expert resources determined that the eyes did not match and this was not the right person. Continuing the search, the team finally located the right woman when they found her brother. Her name is Sharbat Gula and she had moved back to Afghanistan where she lived with her husband and three daughters. Gula recalled the photo shoot and described several facts that corresponded to McCurry’s memories of the event. She explained that she was wearing the red shawl with holes in it that had been burned that day while cooking, that she was the last one to be photographed and that there was a lot of sunlight that day. This time, when the experts examined her photograph, they confirmed that Sharbat Gula was the same person as the one in the photo taken by Steve McCurry all those years ago. The Afghan girl had been found.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and it was well worth the effort.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Mannekin Pis sculpture, another major cultural influence that seems to define Brussels is Belgian comics. Even more so than in Antwerp, Brussels has a strong affiliation with comics, with over 40 full-scale murals of popular comics gracing the sides of buildings throughout central Brussels, and more in the suburbs. In addition, Brussels is home to the Belgian Comics Strip Centre, a large and comprehensive museum covering the history of comics including current works, focusing mainly on Belgian as well as a few French artists. At least from a North American perspective, the most famous Belgian comics series must be the Adventures of TinTin by Hergé (a.k.a. Georges Remi). The TinTin mural was the first one that we found, located prominently in the midst of the busiest tourist area, just across from the Mannekin Pis fountain. A few blocks from there was “La Boutique TinTin” where you could buy postcards, drawings, toys, mugs, and clothing. I’m not sure if I’m doing it on purpose subconsciously, but for the fourth European trip in a row, I misjudged the weather and did not pack enough warm clothing. While in our home swap in Antwerp, I was able to borrow a sweater from our hosts, but now that we had left the home swap on our final leg in Brussels, I decided once again (like the other 3 times) to buy a sweater. To my delight, a pretty green knit sweater with an embroidered logo of Tintin was on sale for only 12 Euros, so I snapped it up. I was warm and also had a nice souvenir.
The largest exhibit of course was for Hergé’s TinTin comics, which the museum was originally going to be dedicated solely to, before Hergé himself convinced the other stakeholders to expand the museum’s focus to the entire Belgian Comics industry. Several plaques provided quite a good explanation about the appeal of the TinTin character, a red-headed teenager with a tuft of hair that sticks straight up in the air who travels the world as a reporter and adventurer. Very few lines or details are used in drawing TinTin and his face is usually relatively expressionless, allowing him to be a stand-in for the reader. Meanwhile his innumerable costumes and disguises lets him take on any role, nationality or occupation. Accordingly, as the exhibit puts it, Tintin is nobody and everyman at the same time. Tintin’s exploits include chasing thieves and spies, flying a plane, riding a motorcycle and a horse, deep-sea diving, swashbuckling and even traveling to the moon.
Tintin interacts with a slew of other friends and adversaries. His closest companions are his little white dog aptly named Snowy and the volatile seafaring Captain Haddock. Tintin also frequently encounters the absent-minded Professor Calculus, the bumbling police detectives Thompson and Thomson, and the opera singer Bianca Castafiore. Some of his adversaries include the evil Rastapopoulos and Doctor Mueller. A comprehensive chart maps out all the characters and which TinTin comic books they appear in. There were 24 comic albums published between 1929-1976 in 70 different languages with over 200 million copies sold. The stories span many genres with elements of fantasy, mystery, political thrillers, and science fiction, often providing satire and political or cultural commentary.
In addition to the titles that we had seen in the museum exhibits, the souvenir shop in the Belgian Comic Strip Centre contained some interesting books including comics about Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and even Weegee, the New York crime photographer of the 1930s and 40s. Tintin books were available in a multitude of languages including ones featuring Chinese characters. There were so many miniatures and figures in the gift shop that we dropped our plans to next visit MOOF, the Museum of Original Figurines.