Germany’s Goethe-Institut disseminating Arab art in Europe
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.”