Openings South Africa

First phase of African opera village completed

Christoph Schlingensief's artistic centre in Burkina Faso opens with a new school

Performers at the celebration outside the new school in Burkina Faso

BURKINA FASO. The first phase of late artist Christoph Schlingensief's African opera village was completed on 8 October with the opening of a school in Burkina Faso. The remaining two phases are the building of an infirmary and a festival hall.

In 2008 Schlingensief, who died in August 2010, and architect Francis Kéré created the foundation Festspielhaus Afrika and the plan to build an opera village near Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso was born. The intention was to establish an artistic centre outside of Europe, in one of the poorest countries of the world.

After Schlingensief's death, the project was chosen for the German pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale. It promptly won the the Golden Lion, a decision very much opposed to by artists such as Gerhard Richter who thought of Schlingensief as a performer rather than an artist. Indeed, Schlingensief had turned the African project into a stage production, “Intolleranza II”, for which he was posthumously awarded the 3Sat award in May 2011.

Schlingensief's widow, Aino Laberenz, who worked with Schlingensief as stage and costume designer, took on the African opera village project. Laberenz opened the school in Burkina Faso, which is meant to create a space for the region's young people and to initiate a dialogue between European and African artists. The school aims to take on 50 local children each year, offering classes in film, art and music in addition to other subjects.

The opera village has been supported by the German political and social establishment, including the Foreign Office, the Federal Cultural Foundation and the Goethe Institute, as well as the Swedish author Henning Mankell and the Berlin lawyer and art patron Peter Raue. Former German president Horst Köhler also took up patronage following Schlingensief's death. The project has cost around €500,000 so far.

Alongside the German board of advisors that is representing the opera village, an artistic committee has been founded in Burkina Faso, which includes film-maker Gaston Kaboré, sculptor Siriki Ky and several other members of the Burkinabé cultural scene.

“Christoph would have been incredibly happy. With the opening of the school, part of his vision has become reality,” said Laberenz.

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