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Doomed Belgian Village Strives for Salvation by Inviting Street Artists into the Ghost Town

article-imageDoel, Belgium (all photographs by Chris Staring/Skaremedia)

Despite the fact that Doel has existed for more than 700 years, this small village will soon be erased in order to make way for the constantly expanding Antwerp port.

Doel, Belgium, sits about a 20 minute drive to the northwest of downtown Antwerp on the edge of the port inlet. Since the 1970s, Doel has been scheduled for demolition multiple times, but the residents managed to delay the inevitable through repeated protests. After almost 30 years of delays, however, the government finally scheduled Doel for complete demolition, and in the late 1990s the residents slowly started trickling out of Doel, leaving their houses empty, and ripe for street artists to use as their canvas.

article-imageSome demolition work appears to have already begun

When visiting Doel, it really feels like you have entered a post-apocalyptic world with its empty streets, overgrown vegetation, and abandoned houses, all in the shadow of a nearby power plant.

article-imageThe gates to the village Lock, with the power plant looming in the background

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A lot of the artwork scattered around Doel depicts the nearby cooling towers from the nuclear power plant

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Vegetation has begun to reclaim the town

There are still a handful of residents who call Doel home, and continue to fight for its survival, and encourage artists to come and decorate the abandoned houses with colorful murals. Some of the remaining eccentric citizens also contribute by erecting sculptures, folk art, gardens, and “Save Doel” banners and signs, as well as informational posters throughout the village.

article-imageA colorful birdhouse/folk art sculpture, presumably erected by one of the few remaining residents

The main reason I came to Doel was to hunt out murals painted by one of my favourite street artists from Antwerp who goes by the name “Roa.” Most of the artwork and murals painted around the town seem to be abstract, yet some artists have used use the unique canvas to their advantage, and some of the artworks are purposefully targeting certain subjects and messages.  Roa paints only large black and white animals, sometimes dead or decaying, and they have a unique sketchy look unlike any other street artist I have come across so far.

article-imageOne of the many Roa murals that can be found in Doel

article-imageAnother Roa mural on the side of an empty house

article-imageAn Iconic Mural by Antwerp street artist Roa

During my visit, I explored all of the streets, photographed the most interesting spots, and, although forbidden, I also entered a few of the buildings in the search of Roa’s murals.

article-imageOne of the abandoned houses which is easily accessible

article-imageThe flooded basement inside the house pictured above

article-imageThe vandalized lounge room inside the house

article-imageIt is forbidden to enter the houses due to safety reasons, such as this stairwell which is missing its railing

Pretty much everything in Doel has now closed. The only three places I found which seemed to still be operating were a big church, a small windmill/café to the side of the village, and a small bar/restaurant in the center of town which caters mainly to the few residents who still call Doel home, and the visitors who cycle here from Antwerp during the summer. Everything else in the town has closed down.

article-imageThe windmill café which still seems to be open for business.

article-imageThese gas pumps may have been out of order for some time now

article-imageA large factory sits abandoned

article-imageA few spray cans inside the factory

article-imageAbstract artwork on an abandoned building

article-imageA face painted onto the façade of an abandoned house

article-imageSome street art has more meaning behind it. This one makes a statement about nearby Antwerp, its large Jewish population, and role as the biggest trader of diamonds in the world.

At the time of writing the few remaining residents of Doel are rallying to have the demolition of their village delayed until 2020, and inviting artists to come and contribute to the huge urban art gallery to raise awareness. Only time will tell how much longer they are able to delay the inevitable expansion of the Antwerp port, which will eventually leave Doel no more than a distant memory.

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All photographs by Chris Staring. 

Find more of Chris Staring’s photography at www.chrisstaring.com or his Instagram account @SkareMedia