Brussels-based Aimée Fidèle Mukunde makes pit stops at her love for Brussels, art, culture and self-love
What do you like so much about Brussels?
As a kid I had a lot of family living here. I wasn’t particularly familiar with the city until I got a job offer and more friends started moving here. That’s when I got the opportunity to explore the city a little bit more. Brussels is a place where I feel safe and welcome, which I didn’t always experience in Antwerp. I’m a very expressive and loud person when it comes to my looks. In Brussels, everyone is so natural about that. I still have my friends and family in Antwerp, it’s my homeplace. But Brussels is a place where I can make a home for myself as well. My most favourite food place in Brussels is a place called Tapas Locas. I’m very much a tapas lover! I would recommend their pasta truffle and the patatas bravas.
Tell us a little bit more about the self-love event.
The philosophy around the event is based around the notion that we as people of colour, don’t always have spaces where we feel safe. Spaces where we can talk about our struggles, and not just talk about our struggles but also celebrate ourselves. A place where we can feel beautiful and recognised. It was important to create something by which we didn’t focus on how we had to prove something to Western institutions. It’s more than just talking about self-love. We talk about all sorts of issues that are taboo and that we need to tackle within our communities. We discuss topics such as depression, trauma and self-care. We created this concept called art food talks because the expression through art, creativity and especially food, is something that connects all people. We wanted to create a safe space where we can talk about whatever we feel and want, without feeling awkward about it.
How did this concept come about?
The concept has evolved organically. The organisation started in 2008 with a different perspective. It dealt more with talent and the creative scene within the African community. Back then an older generation lead the organisation. They missed the mark and didn’t quite figure out how to implement these ideas. When we, a younger generation, started to organise events, we wanted to figure out what made us unique from other events and initiatives. When we put together an event, we tend to invite people from different countries such as the Netherlands, France. At the same time, we have so much undiscovered talent here in Belgium. Women of colour who are doing so many beautiful things and we tend to forget that. That’s why we’re like, “let’s take it slow, and find these people”.
Did the first edition live up to your expectations?
It was the first self-love Sunday and it did exceed our expectations! We didn’t expect to have that many people attending. We were hoping for 50 people but according to the number we got from Wiels, there were 200 people. It was all love and magic. I was in awe. A lot of people said an event like this was long overdue. It was amazing that we were able to create something where everybody felt great.
We spotted a picture of you wearing a cool jacket on your Instagram page. The quote on the back of that jacket says: “The daily path never ends”. How do you approach self-love in your own life?
It’s a jacket from Daily Paper, a black-owned brand that I respect a lot. The idea of self-love is also very personal. It’s a difficult journey with ups and downs every day. Sometimes I wake up and look in the mirror wondering why I look so bad. Next, I’ll wonder why I have these feelings. But I know I have to work on it. Loving yourself is a challenge in itself. A lot of people think I’m very confident, but I have my own set of challenges. I’m turning 30 next year. I have a goal and will continue to walk daily on this path of self-love, by means of self-acceptance and the support of inspiring self-love journeys from people on social media for example.
You seem to be walking a rather untraditional path when it comes down to all the different activities you embrace. You hold a master’s degree in Politics and Communication and you’re passionate about a variety of activities such as hosting, travelling, organising, dance. How do you balance all these passions?
I really don’t know how I balance all those things. I always see myself as a very chaotic person, but I’m actually a good planner and organiser. Studying political science and communication was a way to prove to myself that I can do it. I also chose this field because there was a time when I wanted to work for NGO’s, which isn’t the case anymore. They’re billion dollar companies, but what did they achieve in all those years? Still, I get to implement everything that I learned in current projects and activities, such as the Minderhedenforum in Brussels and hosting, which is great.
Are you considering organising another self-love event?
We don’t feel the need to create something all the time. We want to offer people something to be excited about, something to look forward to. A yearly event would make more sense. But we’re considering a next edition. The weather is also a huge factor because what we do is a bit more difficult to recreate during the winter. This year we got lucky and had great weather.
Given your background in social politics, how do you think we should tackle issues such as racism, discrimination, homophobia, human rights?
These are a lot of things to confront as a person or a community. We need to defend ourselves, not in the literal sense, but intellectually, emotionally, be conscious about what is going on with racism, homophobia, sexism. This consciousness should also include how we react to these issues. It also means knowing who we are as a black community, as people of colour and people from the LGBTQ community. I really believe in this idea of creating our own tables and supporting black-owned businesses and depending less on white institutions. At the same time, we’re still battling with ourselves, the internal struggles of race, sexuality and gender. Sometimes struggling with these issues tires you. We all want to eat, we all want to be loved. Rebelling against the system is mostly about weaponizing your knowledge, abilities and creativity for the betterment of the community.
You spent some time in Brazil. What was that like for you?
I saw this project, AFS Vlaanderen, that offers this program for students to take a gap year abroad. I really wanted to do this, so I started working. Me and my mother started saving money. We were both very motivated. It was really hard. I didn’t know how I was going to pay this money, six thousand euros, I mean, that’s a lot of money. But my mom helped me through it all. She wanted me to have this experience. Scraping together the amount of money that was left to reach my goal was difficult. Then suddenly, the unexpected happened. As if there was a light somewhere, my godmother, one of the best godmothers in the world, donated the last amount of money that was necessary. I was able to go to Brazil and stay there for one year.
Once there, surprisingly enough, I was invited to give workshops and info sessions about my Rwandan-Belgian background. Since Brazilians were genuinely interested. During my stay, I followed some Northern Brazilian Forro dance classes, which I really liked. Brazil changed my life forever. I learned how to be curious, how to develop myself and try new things. You always have to feed yourself with new knowledge, not necessarily to become a newer version of yourself but an improved version. That’s what Brazil taught me.
What does traditional Rwandan dance mean to you?
I practise traditional Rwandan dance since I was 8 and I’m 29 now, so for about 21 years. It’s the closest I get in expressing my culture and the beauty that we have. Rwandan traditional dance is a very sensual, gracious, seductive and dynamic dance. It’s also about getting that inner beauty out. We use our arms a lot because it symbolizes the horns of the holy cow. Over here, in Western terms, they call it Rwandan ballet which I don’t agree with.
What does art represent to you?
That’s a beautiful question. I wasn’t a good painter or singer for example. So I never considered myself an artist. I’m a dancer, so on that level yes. The fact that I create events, or that I am original on stage also makes me an artist, something I never realised before. Art is being creative in your expressions. Or being expressive in your creativity.
You’ve had the honour in March 2019 to host the vernissage of African-American artist Ellen Gallagher at the Wiels museum in Brussels. Did you have the opportunity to enter into close dialogue with Gallagher about her artwork? What were your impressions of the exhibition?
I wanted to get to know her and discover what kind of person she is. I think the meaning behind Gallagher’s artwork was translated in a very academic way. I do ask myself sometimes, who are we talking to and making art for then? I don’t mind conversations that are academic. There are various ways to express, create and be. Still it’s worth considering who you’re addressing.
I do feel that art is sometimes discussed in a way that isn’t accessible, which can create the feeling of being left out of a conversation (as a black person) about black people. I didn’t know Ellen Gallagher before I was asked to moderate. So maybe that also played a role because it was new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous about hosting an event. She’s a sweet person, I mean, when you meet her you don’t feel intimidated at all. In the end I was happy and it was an honour.
What’s your take on social media? Is it something you strongly believe in?
I think we’re lucky to have social media. I learned so much because of social media. It’s not only about sharing information but also finding out about events, books and so many other things. I think social media is one of the greatest inventions of our generation even though we sometimes use it in a negative way. Despite that, it’s one of the most precious gifts of our time. My motivation is always to inspire and be inspired. I don’t believe we can do everything on our own. You can inspire somebody and then they reshare your information, recreate it or reinvent it.
How do you stay close with your family, friends and homeland?
My family is the basis of what I’m doing. It has never been difficult to stay close to them. Everything I do is because of them. They’re my biggest support and motivation. I do things for myself, but also for my family, my friends and my country. It’s the oxygen of what I’m trying to do, what I’m becoming. I don’t exist without them. I’m always in constant connection with them. And for them I always find time in my schedule.
Aimée Fidèle Mukunde is a Brussels-based host, moderator and creative at Cood.
Text: Anouk Fraweel
Photography: Naomi Uten
Published on 07.10.2019