Selfmade Experts: Aino Laberenz on the Opera Village Africa

© Collage Julia Zierer

The idea of the Opera  Village didn’t come about all or once or quickly.

You could say that in 2008 we got this vision on its way. But at the same time the Opera Village is also a project that is, in a way, the result of a life’s work. It was as though it had already been developed long ago, as were many projects from Christoph Schlingensief. Even after Christoph’s death the Opera Village was already more than a vision. The foundation had been laid by him, but you couldn’t see more than a bit of the fundament. When I traveled to Burkina Faso alone for the first time, people came to me and asked me to continue the Opera Village. That was when I saw that it was more. A bit of foundation, a dream or a vision, there were people who believed in something and it was certainly an important moment for me.

It was hard for me personally to step outside it. Of course, I also have responsibility in focus with this project. It was like I had to learn it first. And in the beginning I shied away from the eyes of the public. Although I always knew that I believed in the Opera Village and that I would stand behind it, I just had to learn to communicate this outwards.

It was an important step when we opened the school in 2011 and enrolled the first class. A step from a vision into reality or life.

When there are testimonials every year, or the children perform a play for their parents or show a film, every time it shows me some something arose from a dream. And this dream just keeps getting bigger. Because it grows into a village, it’s not just a building. The infirmary for the region around the Opera Village was completed and put into operation one and a half years ago.

We still reference the building plans created by Christoph over five years ago. And at the same time, in all areas, we always try to respond to the people and their needs on the spot. I also believe this is one of the core elements of the Opera Village.

It’s only been five years since it’s been a truly working operation. I think we’ve gotten a lot off the ground in that time. At this point there are 24 buildings in the complex, all part of the school, infirmary, and artists residence. This is actually our focus – this year we started our first residency program. Even if it’s initially only the prelude to a larger program, it’s a big step for us. I’m really happy about it and it’s certainly an important experience!

The Opera Village is a project that should develop. Christoph called it organic. And for me this means that it’s a project that responds to the environment there and seeks out an exchange between people and artists.

What’s exciting is that the Opera Village is much more than a very special place. It’s also an attempt to do away with existing Western stereotypes and the current image of Africa. I wouldn’t presume to do this myself, but this discussion is definitely an important central element to the Opera Village.

Perhaps we will succeed in changing the perspectives between “North and South,” “rich and poor,” between “Europe and Africa” through the medium of art, through artistic exchange. Christoph called it “Learning from Africa!” For me this is what makes the difference in comparison to other projects.

I hope the project takes its own path, will be self-contained and thus sustainable.

Aino Laberenz first studied art history before assisting with costumes at the Schauspielhaus Bochum for the 2001/2002 season. She then worked as a photographer and costume designer at various theater houses, including the Schauspielhaus Zürich, the Wiener Burgtheater, the Manaus Opera House in Brazil, the Bayreuth Festival and the Staatsoper Berlin. She also designed the costumes for several short films. She designed the costumes and set for the Christoph Schlingensief’s Der Zwischenstand der Dinge. She’s been a part of Christoph Schlingensief’s team since 2004. In 2010 Aino Laberenz took over management of the Festspielhaus Afrika GmbH and continued with the Opera Village Africa, launched by Christoph Schlingensief in 2009. She received the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion at the 54. International Venice Biennale for the German Pavilion, designed together with curator Susanne Gaensheimer. Aino Laberenz is the publisher of the Christoph Schlingensief biography “Ich weiß, ich war’s” brought out by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch in fall 2012 and was co-curator of the exhibition “Christoph Schlingensief at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin and MoMA PS1, New York in 2013/2014.