It is surely not a coincidence that Belgium was the home to many Surrealists. Of course we all know René Magritte, and most of us know Paul Delvaux, but there were many other lesser known artists like Marcel Mariën, Paul Nougé and dozens more. Although Marcel Broodthaers was not strictly a Surrealist, he can be included in this list. My point is that there is something a bit odd about the Belgians. Maybe it’s the split personality of having two languages and two fairly distinct cultures, one influenced by France to the south, the other by Holland in the north.
Cato Beljaars’ new book Weird Things in Brussels reveals that this Belgian oddness, this eccentricity, is all pervasive, evident on every street corner and down every side street of the country’s capital. Ms Beljaars has an acute sense of the absurd, and she and her camera find it in the most unexpected places. There is the notice taped to a window by someone who has lost their eggs with a phone number to contact if they are found. No reward seems to have been offered. There is a woman carrying her pet parrot around in a transparent back-pack and a man leading a donkey across a zebra crossing. There is a dog looking up at the camera oblivious to a mattress which appears to be floating over its head. There are lots more, too humourous to mention, like the man wandering the streets with a portable oasis on his head.
There are hundreds of pictures, not all of them by Cato Beljaars, the other contributors being listed at the back. Apart from that there is no text, no forward, no explanation, the pictures just speak for themselves – and very eloquent they are too.
This small format book is a must for anyone with an eye for the incongruous or the bizarre – and in Brussels there is a lot of it about. Next time you are there keep your wits about you or you could be in for a shock. Michael Hasted 15th June 2023
Publisher Borgerhoff & Lamberigts 1st edition (12th May 2023)
Paperback 200 pages
Dimensions 15.5 x 2.4 x 19.7 cm