Schlingensief and the African Opera Village. On Imaginations of Opera and the African Continent

Страна: Германия

Город: Bayreuth

Тезисы до: 15.10.2014

Даты: 01.06.15 — 01.06.15

Е-мейл Оргкомитета:

Организаторы: Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth


Context of the workshop

The German director and action artist Christoph Schlingensief is well known in Bayreuth for his staging of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal at four Bayreuth Festivals from 2004 to 2007. Schlingensief’s long-term treatment of Wagner’s music, as well as his fascination with the African continent, is of special interest for the Iwalewahaus and its focus on modern and contemporary art from African countries and the African Diaspora.

Iwalewahaus, founded in 1981 as the Africa Centre of the University, does research on, and documentation and teaching of, contemporary art and culture in Africa and presents its findings in temporary exhibitions. Its first director, Ulli Beier, was a strong supporter of art and literature in Nigeria during the 1960s and 70s. Therefore a discussion of today’s European promotion of art in Africa – which is the main idea of the Opera Village - is also related to the history of the Iwalewahaus itself.

After retrospectives on Schlingensief in Berlin and New York, as well as several book releases that allowed for a great overview about his oeuvre, it is time to take a closer look at significant topics that have been part of his works for decades: Wagner's operas and Africa.

Schlingensief’s interest in Africa started in 1993 when he first visited Zimbabwe. In the following years he continuously incorporated Africa as a topic in many of his works such as the film United Trash (1995), the Africa edition of the Animatograph – The African Twin Towers (2005) or the stage play Via Intolleranza II (2010). The most important and last work dedicated to Africa is the Opera Village, currently built in Ziniaré, 30 kilometres from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. The main festival hall that shall be the centre of the village does not yet exist, but a primary school, a recording studio and a health clinic have already been built. After Schlingensief’s death in 2010 his efforts in implementing his vision are carried forward by his wife Aino Laberenz and the Burkina born architect Diébédo Francis Kéré.

The overall idea of the Opera Village is to support young pupils in particular to express themselves creatively and artistically by engaging qualified local contributors who teach Burkinan dancing traditions, the playing of local instruments or the production of films. According to its initiator the Opera Village shall become a place where the border between art and life becomes indistinct.

Schlingensief’s message was a political one, too. He wanted the Village Opera to become a place for the production of images of Africa that differ from well-known pictures of famine and war, which people in Europe consume every day. For him Europe should instead be the one to receive artistic expressions from Burkina Faso that are unique and original – free from influences and limitations of the established art world. Of course this naïve imagination of Africa as a virgin ground is highly disputable. Here the Opera Village shows its potential for making old European narrations a topic for discussion.

The original idea to initiate an Opera Village in Africa is strongly connected to Schlingensief’s work at the Bayreuth festival where he staged Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal. For him the festival hall in Bayreuth worked as an opposite pole to what he wanted to establish in Africa. Indeed many of Schlingensief’s works make both Africa and Wagner a subject of discussion and interweave the two topics. Examples of this merging are:


  • The stage play The Berlin Republic or the Ring in Africa (1999),which implies an early version of the idea to confront Wagner with Africa

  • The Wagner Rallye(1999) through the Namibian desert that was part of a larger project called Search for Germany

  • The film The African Twin Towers (2005), which was shot in Namibia and covers protagonists like the couple Siegfried and Winifred Wagner and their son Wieland.

  • The stage play Mea Culpa – A ReadyMade Opera (2009), where Schlingensief reflects his own delusional search for salvation by building an opera house in Africa


The workshop will be part of a larger project, with planed workshops in Eldoret, Kenya and Ougadougou, Burkina Faso as well as an exhibition at Iwalewahaus in summer 2016. This exhibition will present perspectives on Schlingensief’s engagement with opera and Africa by academics and artists from Europe and Africa.


Some ideas on topics for your paper

(just ideas for possible topics, not limited to these):


Panel 1: The Opera Village

- Is the African Opera Village a visionary concept for development cooperation?

- The opera village as an archive of local artistic practices

- Going exotic: From Bayreuth’s Parsifal to the Flying Dutchman in Manaus to the African Opera Village


Panel 2: Schlingensief and Wagner

- The staging of Parsifal in Bayreuth from 2004 to 2007

- The usage of Wagner and his music in various works of Christoph Schlingensief

- Wagner in Namibia: From Wagner Rallye to The African Twintowers/The Ring 9/11


Panel 3: Africa and Schlingensief

- A post-development/post-colonial critique of Schlingensief’s engagement in Africa

- A discussion of selected works that originated from Schlingensief’s interest in Africa (e.g. United Trash, The African Twin Towers, Via Intolleranza II)


Panel 4: Responses

This panel is open for artists from the African continent who react to the works of Christoph Schlingensief in an artistic or academic manner.


Panel 5: Context

- Fitzcarraldo and Schlingensief: A confrontation

- Can the opera village ever be a social sculpture?

- A history of Europeans as patrons of the arts in Africa

- The opera as a cross-border means of expression



We ask for abstracts in English with 300 to 500 words. The abstracts should formulate a clear question or problem and present shortly the structure of the presentation at the workshop.

We especially encourage young academics as well as artists to participate in the workshop and plan to release selected contributions of the workshop as a publication during summer 2016.

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