Belgian artist Jan Fabre tried, in his absence, for sexual harassment at work

Twelve women accuse the 63-year-old visual artist and choreographer, who faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The trial begins Friday.

The trial of the famous Belgian artist Jan Fabre, prosecuted in particular for “violence” and “sexual harassment” within his dance company, opened Friday morning, in his absence, before the Antwerp Criminal Court. The 63-year-old visual artist and choreographer, who must also answer for “an indecent assault” on a former collaborator, did not show up on the first day of the hearing, which was to be devoted to the testimonies of women who claim to be victims of his actions. within his dance company and an “indecent assault”. They are twelve in total and “will be present”, assured the Belgian Institute for the equality of women and men, also a civil party. The hearing is scheduled to continue on April 1 and judgment will then be reserved. The 63-year-old visual artist and choreographer faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

This trial should be an opportunity to hear his explanations for the first time since September 2018, when the case broke out through an open letter from former employees or trainees of his company Troubleyn. In this text, published by a specialized Dutch-language media, twenty people in total – mostly dancers – denounce the pressures, humiliations and even blackmail of a sexual nature suffered in their work by the choreographer.

Jan Fabre then refutes the accusations. “We are not forcing anyone here to do things that either one or the other considers beyond their limits. I never intended to intimidate or hurt people psychologically or sexually.”he pleads in a right of reply to the same media.

At the time, after the MeToo surge born in 2017 with the Weinstein affair in the United States, a study was launched by the Flemish authorities, in the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium, to identify inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature in the world of media and culture. It is in this context that Jan Fabre, a major European figure in contemporary art, was interviewed in June 2018 by the VRT channel. When presented with the results of the study claiming that one in four women in this industry has experienced an unwanted sexual advance at work, he replies: “At home, never”. “In our company, in forty years, there has never been the slightest problem”he assures, triggering a strong response.

“No sex, no solo”

The open letter is full of detailed statements and accuses him of having once said “no sex, no solo” to a dancer. It makes headlines in Belgium and abroad. In Antwerp, the Labor Auditor, a specialized section of the public prosecutor’s office, is opening an investigation. Three years of investigations lead in June 2021 to a referral to the criminal justice for “workplace violence, harassment or sexual harassment” with regard to “12 employees”as well as for a “molestation” against one of these women.

Born in Antwerp in December 1958, Jan Fabre, an author, visual artist and theater director, has had a reputation since the 1980s as one of the most protean and avant-garde artists of his time. Famous for his beetle wing cases (he covered the entire ceiling of the hall of mirrors in the Royal Palace in Brussels), he is also known for his provocations. In 2012, he had to apologize after a performance showing a “throwing cats” in Antwerp, which caused him to be physically assaulted.

With the prospect of the trial, the cultural sector was shaken, sometimes led to decide between support for a monument of contemporary art and distancing vis-à-vis a man now too sulphurous. A Troubleyn show scheduled for the end of 2021 in Charleroi (French-speaking Belgium) has been canceled after “pressure and invective”, depending on the programmer. On the other hand, in Namur (center), there is no question of removing the giant turtle sculpture which has become an emblem of the city. “No one imagined deleting all of Woody Allen’s films when he was the subject of a complaint”underlined the mayor Maxime Prévot.