Berlin - Burkina Faso is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. It has repeatedly been hit by periods of drought. When it comes to the corona crisis, the country has been largely absent from the European media. Gone are the days when the German theatre director and art activist Christoph Schlingensief managed to attract a completely different kind of attention towards Burkina Faso that went beyond reports of climate crisis and poverty. Schlingensief, who died in 2010, took a broader view of the world. Till his dying breath, he worked on what was probably his most ambitious vision: an "opera village" near the capital Ouagadougou. "Keep going for me. Don't give up!" he implored his wife Aino Laberenz as well as friends and co-workers.
In his lifetime, Schlingenseif managed to build a schoolhouse for the children of the Mossi tribe. Today, 250 kids attend lessons in the friendly building. The architect Francis Kéré designed it as a snail-shaped complex. Since then, a hospital, a dentist's office, a solar power plant and a house for artists-in-residence have been completed. And there's an education centre in which Germany's health institute, the Robert Koch Institute, is involved. A children's film festival is held annually in the village. Of course, the pandemic has curbed all activities. But now things are picking up again and more space is needed for photography, film, painting and theatre workshops. The term "opera village" doesn't mean the project is limited to classical music dramas or musical comedies.
Schlingensief's legacy, which the Opera Village Foundation is striving to fulfil, is not the usual development aid, but an art project in which all the villagers participate, in which they permanently contribute, and with which they earn their living. Schlingensief's idea was pragmatic and at the same time symbolic: a sign for what was possible, for the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful in the midst of poverty and all apparent hardship in the former Upper Volta, a French colony that gained its independence in 1960. Since 1984, the country has been called Burkina Faso, which translates as "land of the sincere man."
Artists and art lovers continue to support the daring project of the late charismatic Schlingensief. This summer, 23 renowned Berlin artists such as Monica Bonvicini, Claudia Comte, Alicja Kwade, Carsten Nicolai, Anri Sala, Michael Seilstorfer and Martin Eder, to name but a few, have donated paintings and sculptures for a large online auction. The most expensive work is valued at €6,000, while others are offered works accessible to those on a smaller budget. The painter Norbert Bisky, who contributed his work "Funkenflug" ("flying sparks") told the Berliner Zeitung: "The opera village is Schlingensief's most visionary idea. As a bubbling social art and encounter laboratory, it is always a few years ahead of our miserable present and has transformed the lives and thinking of many people in Burkina Faso and Berlin-Mitte at the same time. Where else can you find something like that? Schlingensief's audacity is irreplaceable, but the opera village is alive. I'm happy to be part of it."
More info and videos about the Opera Village can be found at https://www.operndorf-afrika.com