“Loving Lagos” In Berlin…Interview with Arne Schneider

by Bayo Olupohunda

The typical stereotype reputation of Lagos as a complex, hellish city where life is short and brutish got a positive boost recently in far away Berlin, Germany with a series of programmes, exhibition and film that showcased the inherent and unharnessed beauty of this enigmatic, cultural melting pot to international audiences. This city frequently referred to as “Bad Lagos” from Western perspectives where horror images of kidnapping, armed robbery and the utterly dangerous nature of the metropolis has often been peddled by the international media has further done so much damage and cemented these negative images in the mind of outsiders. But in Berlin, Lagos is the place to be for friends of surprising, unbelievable, wild, stunning and glamorous anecdotes from the Africa of our times.

Early in September, a major project that provided an understanding of the relationship between Europe and the Tropics opened in Berlin. The project of the Goethe-Institut and funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation in cooperation with the HAU. The Project titled “Soaring Sao Paulo and Loving Lagos” are events that came under the framework of “The Tropics: Views from the center of the globe” will run till January 2009.

The Tropics which are represented by such mega cities as Lagos and Sao Paolo are viewed as places where paradise and hell live as close neighbors; the region is also said to be home to both sumptuous splendor and abject poverty. This is where vivid imagination and dreariness mate in magic realism, where excessiveness and boredom take turns; a place of constant extermination and rebirth; a stronghold of poetry and horror crying out for new aesthetic forms. Nowhere are people closer to life – but also closer to death.

The “Tropics” exhibition in Berlin lends credence to the above and undertakes the attempt once again to trace in suspenseful times the energy flows and fine imbalances between the hemispheres in order to ascertain which cultural forces work together and which work against one another. The “Loving Lagos” concept of the Tropics exhibition which featured performances, Film, Photography, Fashion Show and Party about Lagos was conceptualized and curated by Dorothy Wenner at the Hau Theatre in Berlin.

She had earlier been in Lagos as a member of the Jury of the annual African Movie Academy Award dubbed AMAA. The international art curator, producer, documentarist and director of the documentary about Nollywood, Peace Mission, had also been at the head of the organization of the Berlinale Talent Campus-a major part of the Berlin International Film Festival. The show featured some of Nollywood’s best like Kate Henshaw -Nuttal, Don Pedro Obaseki and Peace Anyiam-Fiberisima. The show also had in attendance, the German Arne Schneider, the Director of the Goethe Institut Lagos. He featured in a segment of the programme titled “Center of Excellence: Proudly Nigerian Part 1”

Question: Hi Arne, what is the idea behind this show “Loving Lagos” and what experience and impression do you have of it?

Answer: Thank you Bayo, “Loving Lagos” was a talk show in one of the most renowned stages in Berlin called the Hau Theatre. It was curated by Dorothy Wenner. Well the idea was to correct the idea and impression people have of Lagos. Honestly, personally this was also the question the organizers asked me in one of the segments of the show I featured in. what idea I have of Lagos before I came here? I answered that I have never had any idea of this “image” of Lagos as people say. Any way some foreigners seem to have a funny impression about Lagos. The idea of “Loving Lagos” was to show the creative, cultural and vibrant side of Lagos to international audiences. There was a lot about Nollywood, there were guests like Peace Fiberesima the film maker who spoke about film making in Nigeria, and there was Don Pedro Obaseki and Kate Henshaw- Nutal all players from Nollwood. There was also a German business man who spoke for the business community in Germany. A scene about the Nollywood enriched discourse about the film industry in Nigeria. I had the privilege of taking the stage with the Berlin based Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi in a segment titled ‘Center of Excellence: Proudly Nigerian Part 1”. Together and to a listening international audience, we talked about the art and photography scene in Lagos, for example the Black Box and etc. The “Loving Lagos” show was done in a highly professionally way that showcased Lagos to international audiences. For example in my discussion with Akinbode Akinbiyi, we had images by Black Box in the background. My discourse with Akinbode before the audience was greatly enriched by positive multi media images of Lagos, photographs, slides, talk, movies, theatre and there was no contribution longer than ten minutes. My impression of the Berlin show was that it was very fabulous and professionally done.

Question: Aside from the Nollywood guests at the show, were other Nigerians represented in Berlin?

Answer: Yes, in fact for a brief moment while at the show in Berlin I felt like I was in Lagos (laughter). The whole place brimmed with Lagosians; the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin was there. It was actually the gathering of some of Lagos best at the show. For me it was fun to be there.

Question: Does the Berlin show match the realities we have in Lagos.

Answer: I think so. If you present or try to reflect a city in a talk show like the organizers did in Berlin, one cannot but offer mosaic pieces together to form some kind of image of the city. The organizers presented a very good image of Lagos. But I also think they made a very good selection. Personally, I think the photography circuit in Lagos is world class. The Nigerian embassy spoke about the tourism potentials and projects in Nigeria. In a nutshell, they did not project the challenges, they showed the creative and vibrant side of Lagos and I think the organizers managed this very well.

Question: But don’t you think the organizers should also have presented the challenges in Lagos because this appear to be what Westerners speak about when approaching this city and images from the international media also present these challenges. What do you think?

Answer: I don’t think so because everybody seems to know about these problems and challenges in Lagos. The approach to the show by the organizers was definitely a good one. The whole idea was to dedicate one evening to show case the cultural scene, the potentials and vibrancy of Lagos. And this was excellently done to the international audience present in Berlin.

Question: As a German working in Lagos, what are the impressions you have of this city?

Answer: Well, I must say I really have the most wonderful working condition here in Lagos. We have a wonderful house here at the Goethe Institut Lagos. We have partners who we can rely on one hundred percent. Those who are really partners, those we run our projects with in Nigeria from both governmental and non governmental institutions. We have partners in film making, photography, environment, education, culture and media and also in the academia. I absolutely enjoyed working here in Lagos. Also talking about the media and this not for the purpose of putting us into the scene but we try to do the most interesting programmes but what is the use of having these programmes and projects if no one reports them? So I want to say that I am extremely grateful for the collaborations with the media houses, the television, and the newspapers. This is not for us in Goethe but they have given us the chance to lift the discourses and ptogrammes at the Institut in to the public space. At the Goethe Institut Lagos, we try to give the forum; the platform for culture, Knowledge, for societal discourse and these will not be possible without our partners and the media. For this we are extremely grateful and I have had a great time in Lagos.

Question: How often do you think such shows such as “Loving Lagos” should be organized to help put Lagos in the proper perspective before international audience such as we had in an international capital like Berlin?

Answer: The concept of the global project “The Tropics: Views from the Center of the Globe”” that the Goethe Institut coordinated and which the “Loving Lagos” programme featured prominently will run till January 2009. Within the body of this whole Project we at the Goethe Institut also put in focus the idea of the mega cities in the tropics. This was actually the frame in which this project could be contextualized. Of course Lagos is very much a subject of discourse globally. This city has attracted much attention. Firstly because of the vibrant art and culture scene, African art and photography are at the focus of international attention at the moment. The second reason why Lagos is a hot topic is the mega city discourse. I have been here for about three and half years and I see a lot of increase in visits by international artists, scientist and musicians coming to find out how this place scientifically or artistically works. It is not only Lagos but this city provides a perfect example of the mega city discourse and mega cities will be a form of living that we see in many more places. Twenty years ago I remembered that the biggest city was New York, probably may be Mexico City. That we have so many cities now with ten million people, and then these cities have to be organized or have to organize themselves somehow. I think it is because of this that people now see Lagos as an example of the international mega city discourse and development.

Question: Do you think Lagos can play a significant role in the international culture scene?

Answer: In a mega city like Lagos where you have the social contrast, where you have the biggest and strongest energy in the people I have ever seen in any place in my life. Then I think a strong cultural scene can emerge. A cultural scene that can play a part in the international cultural discourse and this is currently working now because Lagos photography is the medium to reflect this unlikely place to the international cultural scene. The poverty, poetry, challenges and hardships, the daily hustles and bustles but of course there is a lot of happiness and beauty. There are also efforts and success on all levels of human endeavours here in Lagos. So the artists who can reflect these contrasts are the photographers and the contemporary dancers. Lagos has a vibrant contemporary dance scene. Lagos also has a unique film scene which is working and growing but still a long way to the international film festivals but it is unique and it just absolutely strike me that they are much more popular than the much talked about Nollywood blockbusters here. And this one of the things I want to find out during my remaining time in Nigeria what this whole thing about Nollywod gives to the people of course the whole idea is an economic thing but also a strong cultural factor.

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