By Vera Anyagafu & Prisca Sam-Duru
Friederike Moschel is the Director of Goethe Institut Nigeria; a position she has held since 2017. In this interview held at her office in Lagos, Moshel shared insight into the cultural relationship between Germany and Nigeria especially as it concerns culture producers/activists as well as artists, and other sundry issues. Excerpts
What specific areas does the institute operate?
Goethe Institut has three departments. The first one is language department which caters for Nigerians who are interested in Learning German language. Majority of our students are university students as well as business people. There are also those who want to study in Germany so they want to prove that they have learned German. Every year we have about three thousand German exams here at the Institut . There is the culture department. Here, we mainly do events and workshops together with Nigerian partners in the field of culture. You know that the culture scene of Nigeria is manifold. We’ve had for decades, workshops on films, photography, literature, painting, music, and currently we are focusing on a lot of programmes for young people. The third department is library. Here, we have information to help people especially people learning German and they also do a lot of corporation projects with Nigerian Library, publishing houses and writers.
We opened our office here right after independence so we are an old institution. Our main mission is about corporation in the field of culture and art. We are also focusing on exchange programmes. So it’s not just about bringing in Nigerian artists to Germany, it’s the other way round. It’s important to have Nigerian artists going to work with artists in Germany but I think it’s as important to have German and European artists, culture experts and activists also come to Lagos to see what is happening. I mean Lagos is one of the biggest cultural hubs in Africa. So far, those who’ve participated have been fascinated with what they’ve seen. It’s important especially when you deal with prejudices, so for some people it’s an eye-opener to come here and see what’s going on. And when they go back to Germany they are like wow, Lagos is so amazing.
So does the institute operate as a foundation?
Good! It is important to mention that a lot of people think that Goethe institute is a kind of foundation, so when you need money you go and apply, we are not a foundation. We create our own projects in corporation with local partners, on topics that are really relevant. I observed that when I came here two years ago, it was really difficult because every week, I received emails from artists seeking financial support and I said this is not possible. First of all, we are not a foundation and we do not have such budget. However, we know that in Nigeria, there’s hardly any support for artists. Here in Lagos, it may be a little bit easier than it is for artists in Jos or Benin City so, we conceived the idea of an open hall. This happens once every year. The open hall is usually in January or February. So here, we look at initiatives by the artists. They have to explain what kind of initiatives they’re proposing, what’s the topic, their mission and the duration. Then, we look at how we can help but we make it clear that we are not covering everything. For me, it’s all about corporation. This year, we have more than seventy applications from all over the country and of course, we are not able to support all. We have the jury that helps in the selection of artists and it’s always difficult to decide which project we are going to support. So this year, we are supporting fourteen projects.
Are the German exams that necessary?
The Goethe Institut is purely for cultural exchange and German Language. It’s very necessary to learn German language and also take the exams because for instance, someone needs to travel or move to Germany to be with a family member who lives in German, the authorities need to be sure that he or she is able to communicate. If a doctor for instance needs to go and work in Germany, then he needs a higher level of knowledge in German Language to be able to communicate with patients.
How’s the cultural relationship between Nigeria and Germany?
Personally, my impression about the cultural relationship between Nigeria and Germany is very good. Recently we had workshops with experts from Berlin on virtual reality in journalism; how we can use the media optimally in the internet age. We had eleven journalists from all over Nigeria who participated. It was amazing how enthusiastic they were and our experts from Germany said they’ve never seen as much excitement from any other place as they saw in Nigerians.
So for Goethe, it’s not just about bringing Germans to tell us how to do something because Nigeria’s field of culture is very developed. It’s about discussing how we are doing things here, how are things over there and not for experts to come here and say this is how it must be done. I mean Nigeria’s art and culture scene is very global and most of the artists are internationally connected. So working here is very interesting and I feel very happy here because it is a very satisfying work.
Any challenges operating in Nigeria?
We need more teachers; German Language teachers. We have a lot of people who are interested in taking our courses but our group of teachers, I mean we could offer more courses if we have more teachers. The problem in Nigeria is that German is taught in some of the bigger universities like Ibadan, Ife but a lot of the students don’t really want to become teachers but may want to use the language to do something else. It’s a difficult situation. Another thing is that one might want to teach but does not have the talent to be a teacher.
What are some of the cultural events the institut hosts?
We have a residency programme in which every year, one Nigerian artist goes to Berlin for three months and then we have three artists from Berlin who come to Nigeria for six weeks each and we do that in partnership with Art House Foundation. The last Nigerian artist who was in Berlin was Taiwo and he had a performance here in Lagos. That performance was developed when he was in Berlin. There is another project in which five artists go back to their schools, be it primary or secondary schools which they attended when they were much younger, to hold art workshops. The five artists are usually with different backgrounds, and drawn from different parts of the country. The aim of the workshop is to show the parents, teachers and students that art is not elitists; you don’t have to live in Lagos or attend big school when it’s about art. Art sometimes is very simple but it develops creativity. Creativity is crucial for everyone because without creativity you can’t be a professional. We also taught them not to use too much of expensive materials because when the materials are too expensive, the schools or parents will discourage the students from becoming artists on grounds that it’s too expensive. So they use materials we can get everywhere. This again for me is a very good project because we are doing this to encourage young people and may be in future, they would want to go on with art.
You talked about support for artists earlier, how do you think government can help?
It will be great if government pay more attention on the potentials of the young contemporary artists. Some of them think outside the box, and are also introducing new things into traditional art, this is a huge potential for the country. Some Nigerian artists are really popular and a lot of them need more support which I think is not always about money but also encouragement with work spaces especially in cities like Lagos. There are old abandoned government buildings since government moved to Abuja. They can be used. So there’s space. Some artists just need space and electricity. But this is not just a government problem. Like we say all over the world, if you wait for the government, you’d probably wait forever. There should be more encouragement for people to start something by themselves no matter how little, instead of waiting for the government.