#ASK: Houcem Bellakoud

On 21 and 22 May, Unity in Diversity (UID) will present the Art Market, in which artists, young creatives, photographers and musicians are given a stage. You will come into contact with different types of art here — art that also happens to be for sale, so maybe you will go home with something very special. Think of photography, digital art, multimedia art, paintings, charcoal portraits and much more. At the Art Market you will find affordable art by leading and emerging artists. In addition, the organisation is hosting artistic workshops in painting and Spoken Word, especially for children between 8 and 17 years old. A DJ and live music will provide atmosphere. For this edition of #ASK, we ask Houcem Bellakoud a few questions. He co-founded Unity in Diversity alongside Jeanthalou Haynes.

Can you tell us a little more about what visitors to Rotterdam Art Week can expect?
Expect a multicultural and bustling art market, both indoors and outdoors, with a sand bar where they can enjoy the stage program. As well as an art market where visitors have the opportunity to meet inspiring creatives. Creative people who are open to teaching visitors about their artworks, culture while hopefully increasing their love of art.
Unity in Diversity’s vision is focused on diversity and connection. Rotterdam is a versatile city with a great diversity of residents, and we hope to reflect this during the art market. Our artists have diverse backgrounds: they hail from Suriname, Turkey, Chile, South Africa, Morocco and beyond. For this first edition of the Art Market we start with 33 different artists who sell affordable art.
A quote from Leni Kae that inspires me on this subject is: “Art inspires us to visit the concept of ‘unity’ and see ourselves as part of a bigger universe.”

Houcem Bellakoud

What do you think people should absolutely not miss out on?The live painting shows, the zine workshop, DIY elements and possibly 2 mini auctions per day.While strolling through the market, visitors can take a look at the various live painting shows by Kénisha Dors, Charnele Carbiere, Hotegni Dansou and Tedsky. You can also get a beautiful henna tattoo on your hand on Saturday, made by our creative Souhaila.
The auctions will depend on the children who have signed up for the painting workshop that is provided by Browns Art House. The idea is that their artworks will be auctioned afterwards so that they have the full experience of being an artist. However, the children decide for themselves whether they accept the challenge of putting it up for sale or if they want to keep the work for themselves.

Art has an image as being quite inaccessible, many people believe — wrongly — that they cannot afford any art within their budget, while you can already buy something quite remarkable for just a few tens of euros. What prejudices do you hope that visitors to the Art Market will overcome?
I like the fact that you ask me this, because we do hope to overcome the prejudice that art is excessively expensive, that art is only affordable for the elite. Art is for everyone and it’s available in all shapes and price ranges.
For this Art Market we have made a selection of multicultural artists who sell art from €10 to €300. We have deliberately chosen this price range to show that it is really possible to score beautiful, inspiring and cool works of art within any budget.We hope that this will be an eye opener: that everyone can afford art. Moreover, we hope that new creators will be born, people who have been inspired by this event to start expressing their creativity through art.

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?
I was born and raised in beautiful Tunisia, where I spent a lot of time with my grandparents: my grandfather, a dark man, and my grandmother, popularly called a ‘ginger’. By Tunisian standards, my grandparents have very exceptional external features. Characteristics that forced them both to break through barriers in my hometown of Menzel Bourguiba.The life stories and vision of my grandparents have ensured that I am open-minded today and that I have respect for everyone’s identity. This mindset has made me curious about the world outside of Tunisia. In June 2013 I followed my heart to Rotterdam, in search of love. To my surprise, I fell in love with a city and its diverse inhabitants.I really consider Rotterdam to be my home now. Everyone can be whoever they want to be here. The multicultural society in Rotterdam inspired me to become a photographer and a cultural entrepreneur. My goal is to bring people together and spread love through cultural projects, events and art. My favourite quote is: The universal beauty lies in the diversity of the world’s population.

Which other events are you looking forward to the most during the upcoming edition of Rotterdam Art Week?
Rotterdam Photo 2022
Tantet Nino | Face Your Fears
The Design of the Social in Het Nieuwe Instituut

As a photographer, I am naturally curious about what I can see and learn at Rotterdam Photo 2022. Visiting photography exhibitions is part of my personal development. The other events appeal to me because of the cultural and social aspect that they highlight.

If I wasn’t organising an event myself, I would definitely visit several events; That’s what Jeanthalou and I do every year. That won’t work this year, but we are grateful that we can be part of Rotterdam Art Week. Jeanthalou and I wish everyone a lot of success and especially: a lot of fun. Unity in Diversity!