Reading Belgium

This year’s Taipei International Book Exhibition includes exhibitions highlighting Belgian comic art, music, architecture and poetry

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 - Page 12

The 21st Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE, 台北國際書展) may help you to reconnect with your artistic self and your love of comic books. The theme country for the event, which is slated to open Wednesday and run through Feb. 4 at the Taipei World Trade Center (台北世界貿易中心), is Belgium, the birthplace of the Smurfs, Tintin and saxophones.

Located in Hall 1, the Belgian pavilion highlights the country’s music, architecture, poetry and comic art through a series of curated exhibitions. Twenty-two publishing companies from the European country will bring a wide array of books on topics ranging from history, literature and philosophy, to design and comic art.

“Belgium, like Taiwan, is a small country with a small population, and yet it enjoys a tremendous amount of energy and creativity. Through the exhibition, we want to focus on the country’s rich traditions and creative innovation at the same time,” said Huang Pao-ping (黃寶萍), executive director of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation (台北書展基金會), which organizes the annual event.

Speaking of traditions, the origin of saxophones is illuminated through an exhibition on Adophe Sax, the Belgian music instrument designer credited with inventing the musical instrument in the 1840s. As Hung pointed out, the Belgian invention has an interesting connection with Taiwan since a large percentage of the world’s saxophones are manufactured in Houli (后里), Greater Taichung.

Belgium’s renowned jazz saxophone player Steve Houben will perform with guitarist Quentin Liegeois on the fair’s opening day from 3:30pm to 4:30pm at the Red Salon (紅沙龍), located in Hall 1. During his diverse music career, Houben has played with many music legends such as Chet Baker, Mike Stern and George Coleman.

In the poetic realm, revered Belgian poet Maurice Careme (1899-1978) will be introduced to local readers through a display of his poems and original manuscripts. Meanwhile, architect Victor Horta (1861-1947) comes into the spotlight with an exhibition on his distinct Art Nouveau style, showing off 54 images of Horta’s architectural designs accompanied by written introductions, which include the Belgian Comic Strip Center.

According to the foundation, Belgians spend the second-most annually of any EU country on books, and half of the nation’s publications are illustrated or are comic books. So it should come as no surprise that the Belgian pavilion dedicates part of its efforts to the works of more than 60 comics artists from different generations, illustrating the history and development of the country’s comic art.

Moreover, works of celebrated Belgian children’s book illustrators and writers including Peyo and Herge, the creators of the Smurfs and the Adventures of Tintin respectively, are on display at Hall 3, which focuses on children’s literature. Local favorites Carl Norac and Kitty Crowther, who won the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, the biggest prize in children’s literature, will hold readings and book signing sessions.

Besides Belgium, Austrian children’s book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger, who has received numerous international awards including the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen medal, will present 20 works depicting five fairytales including Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. She will give a talk in the Red Salon on Feb. 4 from 2:15pm to 4:30pm.

Over the period of six days, more than 700 activities will take place at the book fair, drawing some 800 publishing houses and 500 participating authors from home and abroad, the organizers said.

Among the plethora of activities, Taiwan’s own pavilion highlights homegrown authors and cultural figures through an exhibition curated by National Museum of Taiwan Literature (台灣文學館), displaying over 30 artifacts and personal items donated to the museum in Tainan. Exhibits include a suitcase carried by Yao Yi-wei (姚一葦, 1922-1997), one of the recognized greats of the modern Chinese theater, when the playwright fled China to Taiwan in 1946, and writer San Mao’s (三毛, 1943-1991) collection of color-painted porcelain plates as tokens of love for her husband.

“The exhibition is an attempt to connect the objects to history, both personal and collective, and reflect the lives of their old owners, ” museum director Li Jui-teng (李瑞騰) said.

Fourteen other countries have their own pavilions, including Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Finland, Turkey and the US.

To further facilitate international exchanges, the foundation invited several publishers and copyright agents from six countries including France, Spain, New Zealand and the UK to take part in a couple of forums on copyright-related topics. The book fair also organizes matchmaking events for companies from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and the US that are interested in finding books to adapt into television programs or movies, Huang added.