Every year before Ash Wednesday, the people of Aalst, Belgium gather for three days to celebrate the Aalst Carnival. The celebration includes various activities and is the culmination of a year of preparations. The event is a tradition going back some 600 years and, according to UNESCO, draws up to 100,000 spectators.
Amsterdam-based photographer Marieke van der Velden has been going to the celebrations for a while. For nine years, she has focused on one of the more colorful parts of the festivities. She describes her project below:
“Every year on the Tuesday of the Carnival, all the men of the Belgian town Aalst (Oilsjt) dress up like women. They call themselves ‘Voil Jeanetten’ (dirty Jennies), and they wear worn corsets, old fur coats and a lampshade on their head. They also tow an old pram with beer in it, and a bird cage on its side.
Voil Jeanetten are a special kind of “women,” to express it mildly. They throw beer, swing dead fish on rods, carry used toilet brushes and try to paint on you with a combination of wallpaper glue and feathers. Twice I had to run very fast because a Voil Jeanet was convinced that “my camera was thirsty.”
In the past nine years, I went to Aalst to capture this crazy party. After a while, the Voil Jeanetten started to recognize me and invited me to drink my first beer of the day at 8 a.m. in one of the smoky smelling bars near the square.
A couple of years ago, the Voil Jeanetten were recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
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