Leen Kaneza Van Reusel
Surrounded by piles of books, vintage furniture and a bunch of bookworms, Leen Kaneza Van Reusel and I met in Ghent over coffee. She came in late, as her bike had a flat tire on the way over to the café. With a big smile she rushed into the bathroom to wash her hands, and I felt the ice was already broken. What happened next was a two-hour conversation that still resonates today. A refreshing, much needed point of view on the world of advertising, the absolute need to normalize diversity, seasoned with personal stories about work, Leen’s personal background and her own experience with skincare & beauty.
The pictures in this feature were made by Tina Lewis Herbots, a visual artist based in Belgium.
Hi Leen, could you start by introducing yourself?
Sure. My name is Leen Kaneza Van Reusel, I’m 28 years old and I live in Ghent. I was born in Burundi, but grew up in Sint-Niklaas. What else can I tell you, I work as a freelance artist manager and creative producer. Recently, I started my own “talent agency & creative studio” called Kaneza. While I refer to it as a talent agency, I’m still looking for a concept that better encompasses everything I do and that expresses the right sentiment that goes with it.
Can you tell us a bit more about the motivation to start your own talent agency & creative studio?
I studied communication, cultural trends and marketing, but I never intended to work in a classic advertising company. During my internships and then in my early career, I worked in the field of talent agency and production. Working there, I noticed that I wanted to do things differently from how they are typically being done.
Usually, creatives want to sign with a well-know or big agency as soon as possible because they assume it’s what they need to build a successful career and it will deliver them loads of assignments. But, apart from such a more economical-why question, they forget to motivate their choices by something that is of paramount importance in their growth as an artist: What can this or that agency do for them in the development of their talent? How can they grow together, how can their work evolve and how can the agency really serve the artist, instead of a relationship that is merely based on reputation or commercial value?
With Kaneza, I want to forefront that often-forgotten aspect of the collaboration between artist and agent. My main goal is to serve the career of the creatives I’m working with and let their talent flourish, based on the goals they set out for themselves. Occasionally that implies that I motivate them to dream bigger. I believe that putting the development of your artists and creatives first, makes for a more sustainable career development understood in more traditional, economic terms.
For example, I believe in a project-based approach where clients and creatives are brought together to explore a possible collaboration. Creatives shouldn’t have to cater to an already existing client list of the agency that doesn’t match their (creative) identity. To me, it’s the role of the agent to find connections that can result in authentic stories.
"Having my own company allows me to exercise my point of view in practice and to increase accessibility, representation and social mobility within this industry."
You only work with creatives of colour. Why is that important to you?
That’s a difficult question because the answer is very nuanced and like many other people I don’t want to be put into a box that doesn’t fit me.
I’m very much about intentional community, my goal is to create more opportunities and room for people like myself and people that look like me. You know, for decades, even ages, white people working in the creative industry have enjoyed a privilege that I – among others – am trying to extend to a larger and more diverse group of people. For People of Colour there are several structural hurdles to be able to “get in”. That’s why I believe the industry needs a new generation of what they call gatekeepers. Individuals that can provide access, that attract creatives of colour, and can give them the confidence and safe environment they are looking for to work more freely.
"It’s not so much about taking the space but about remaking it. Making it into a better space."
Kaneza is my instinctual response to go against the outdated structures that are designed to promote the same names and faces. It’s not so much about taking the space but about remaking it. Making it into a better space. For example, soon it will be ‘Black History Month’, and there will be more attention for creatives of colour. But it should be more than just a marketing stunt. People of Colour should be durably and actively engaged in a more shared artistic circuit. I believe that cultural exchange is naturally enriching, it brings new points of view, other ways to look at art and the creative process.
So interesting and refreshing to talk to you about this subject. I’m curious to know: what are your thoughts about beauty and skincare?
The ritual of skincare is something that has always been fun to me, because it seems to fall more easily to me than taking care of – and learning how to love – my natural hair. I love skincare and experimenting with face masks and witnessing the effect certain ingredients have on my skin. Because I’m a very loyal customer when it comes to my daily routine. I always avoid cleansers that dry out my skin, because my skin really craves for hydration & nourishment. Mostly I just really look forward to that daily moment of self-care & self-reflection.
I’m a Fenty girl, I don’t know what to tell you, I just love their Beauty & Skin-line, because they make sure it’s inclusive and know which type of products our skin needs. My favourite is their day-cream with SPF, as it doesn’t leave a white cast, something I had been looking for for a long time!
How do you feel about MAIWE?
I don’t like fragranced skincare, so I love the neutral, earthy smell of MAIWE’s products and the fact that they are fragrance free. Usually I look for a brand that also has a certain brand vision in addition to the quality of the products. It all has to align, a brand needs to be clean and natural and act ethically, otherwise it's really difficult for me to support it. I know it’s very elitist and privileged to talk about it like this because I know it’s more expensive. I do want to preface this by saying that I know that not everyone can do this, but I’m in the position where I can be mindful about it.
When I learned more about the origin of Maiwe and how they stimulate female entrepreneurship across its entire supply chain I was sold. I also love that they promote a minimalistic skincare routine - focussing on hydration and the natural healing powers the wild rose - because mine is very simple and I’ll have to make it work when I have to rush in the morning, or when I'm tired in the evening.
Leen’s favourite MAIWE product
Small shout out to Charlotte Pieters - the Founder of Loner self care boxes - who introduced me to The Rosehip Oil serum that I’ve been using ever since. I came across it at the perfect time, it felt like the missing piece in the puzzle of my routine, so I guess I have to go with that one!
SHOP LEEN'S FAVOURITE
Rosehip Oil Serum