By Martin Smith | 11 February 2015
A hundred miles north of Calais is the Belgian city of Antwerp – there nestling within its huge docklands is the tiny village of Doel.
Flanked by a huge levee and a nuclear power station on one side and docks and wasteland on the other, this 400-year-old village is also battling powerful corporate forces.
The Antwerp Port Authority and large corporations are attempting to demolish the village; they want to make way for developers to build a second container port. Why they need a second container port in Antwerp is beyond comprehension given the one they opened in 2005 is being used to less than a fifth of its capacity.
In the early 1970s around 1,300 lived in Doel, today there are only 25 inhabitants left.
The authorities have attempted to persuade the inhabitants to leave, offering to buy their properties. They have also used the stick. In 2008 the Flemish Executive sent in 100 riot police to the village in order to force through the start of the demolition works.
Doel is like a miniature Detroit, a post apocalyptic wasteland. There are hundreds of abandoned buildings, including the town hall, the school, garages and shops. But amongst the ruins there is a small bar and homes of the defiant protestors who have refused to leave. They are not only fighting the property developers they are fighting to defend what’s left of their community.
In order to breath life into the village, they have invited street artists to paint on the empty buildings and street furniture and bring back colour and life to Doel. The village has literally become a giant canvas for street and graffiti artists.
Some artists have produced overtly political statements and commentaries on the village’s destruction, others just beautiful works of art and as you would expect some pretty poor stuff.
It’s not just the outside of the buildings that have been painted; some artists have decorated the insides. Only occupied homes, the church and the cemetery are free of art.
Belgium’s internationally famous muralist ROA has painted some of his gloriously intricate and giant sized animals on the walls of the village. He has also collaborated with the street artists Resto and Santos to produce a huge mural of a gorilla holding a long necked bird in one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other.
Ives has painted a brilliant portrait of Obama as the Joker and Say Cheese has tuned a house into a smiling figure mocking the authorities. Another painting shows a scientist crushing a village.
Graffiti artists have also been at work adding their own slogans and comments. One has painted on an old street name sign “No Where”. Others are cruder. One dark and empty garage has been painted to look like some kind of satanic sanctuary. I had a quick look round and made my getaway fast.
Doel is a fascinating village; a place where art and protest collides. If you find yourself near Antwerp, take a quick diversion and visit the village and while you are there visit the bar and help keep this village and its dreams alive.