Germany’s Goethe-Institut disseminating Arab art in Europe

October 29, 2017
Bridging distances. Lebanese Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury (L), Director of the Goethe-Institut in Lebanon Mani Pournaghi (C) and Regional Director of the Goethe-Institut for the MENA region Elke Kaschl Mohni at the inauguration of the new premises in B

Beirut - Germany’s Goethe-Institut is keen on highlighting the Arab region’s artistic and creative potential, often overshadowed by images of war, displacement and terrorism.
Mani Pournaghi, director of the Goethe-Institut Lebanon, stressed growing German interest in Arab cultural scenes and the institute’s ef­forts to create platforms of interac­tion and exchange.
“The Arab region is an important region for us, in view of the devel­opments that are taking place and the refugee situation in Germany,” Pournaghi said. “We have a two-way approach in our programmes because we want to mirror what is happening on the (cultural scenes) of the Arab region to German audi­ence and transmit German culture and values to the region.”
“The Goethe-Institut’s main mis­sion generally is to promote German as a foreign language but we have a new approach: That is to create plat­forms for cultural encounters and exchange with the aim of establish­ing long-term relations with the lo­cal scenes and encouraging co-crea­tions and co-productions.”
The Goethe-Institut, which is the official cultural institute of Ger­many, has branches in most coun­tries of the Middle East and North Africa among a global network of 160 centres. Programmes such as the Laboratory of Arts, Backstory, Kultur Academy and Music Room are among the activities organised or supported by the institute to give exposure to Arab artists and connect them with cultural circles in Germa­ny, Pournaghi said.
The Laboratory of Arts is a long-term project that supports Syrian artists affected by the war in addition to other Arab artists. Participants are selected by a special jury and their works are co-produced with support from the institute. “We invite pro­grammers, curators and journalists from German museums to attend showcasing events so that the cura­tors may include artists in their pro­grammes,” Pournaghi said.
The Backstory project, imple­mented in partnership with Beirut Art Residency (BAR), offers a two-month residency for young and ris­ing Arab and German film-makers. Participants are mentored and pro­vided with technical equipment and a space in which to create their pro­jects. “In this programme we want to mix the artists and give them a platform to network, collaborate and gain insights from other film-makers in the region and Europe,” Pournaghi said.
The institute’s Carte Blanche aims to reduce prejudices and miscon­ception of the Arab world in East European countries where pop­ulism sparked by the refugee crisis is high. Beirut, Amman and Cairo were twinned with European coun­terparts — Bratislava, Prague and Vilnius, respectively — for six weeks during which Arab artists show­cased their talents to East European audiences.
“We wanted to show what is go­ing on in the region in terms of cul­ture, arts and creative potentials and expose Arab artists to a bigger and international audience. The aim was also to provide this kind of a dif­ferent picture of the Arab world, to break the stereotypes and prejudic­es,” Pournaghi said.
The Goethe-Institut Damascus — In Exile project was also designed to break prejudices and miscon­ception, Pournaghi explained. For weeks, the institute, which was closed in in Syria in 2012, was brought back to life in Berlin in the form of a pop-up place. Syrian and Arab artists were invited to take part in more than 60 events covering various fields, including literature, music, acting and the visual arts
“It was yet another way to show all the positive things and the poten­tials in the region,” Pournaghi said.
The Kultur Academy and Music Room are among the institute’s re­gional programmes. While the Kul­tur Academy is aimed at training cultural managers and practition­ers, the Music Room is meant to pro­mote Arabic music.
“For the Music Room we scouted three to five emerging contempo­rary musicians in each Arab country, recorded them professionally and produced music videos in their pri­vate places, which we then posted on a platform for music distribution in Europe,” Pournaghi said.
In Lebanon, the Goethe-Institut, established in 1955, is among the oldest worldwide. It recently in­augurated new premises in Beirut, which are equipped with state-of-the art digital technology for learn­ing and accessing information. Its online library includes books in German and translations in English, French and Arabic.
The institute also organised the German Film Week, which was at­tended by the directors of the fea­tured movies and brought the Ger­man Pavilion at the Venice biennale to Beirut’s Sursock Museum
The Goethe-Institut is concerned with bridging distances and re­ducing prejudice, Pournaghi said, stressing that “we are strongly con­vinced that art has a huge power in bringing people closer.”