Christoph Schlingensief’s utopian vision for an opera village in Burkina Faso, where a stage, rehearsal space, school, hospital, hotel, church, and large communal kitchen, would be constructed for the community to produce work and live within was grand and commendable but as Kerstin Eckstein and Michael Schönhuth of [the German paper] Der Zeit see it, perhaps not fully planned through. The theoretical gesamtkunstwerk was initiated before the late Schlingensief’s death and has since been taken on by his wife, Aino Laberenz. Yet it is struggling to meet the late artist’s somewhat opaque vision. In March 2011, following FESPACO, the Goethe Institut organized a series of conversations in Ouagadougou about the project. Schönhuth and Eckstein point out that it may have been more beneficial to have representatives from neighboring villages or members of the local cultural scene rather than art experts and curators who knew Schlingensief. Furthermore, in a place with no tradition or concept of opera, but rather a tradition of suspicion towards bourgeois European cultural elites, it may be hard to find community support for the project. While Schlingensief was careful to avoid the clutches of neocolonialism through irony, self-accusation, and exaggeration, he also fell into the discourse of wanting to be healed and purified by what he called Africa’s “purity and originality.” Schönhuth and Eckstein acknowledge that this opera village has been conceived of in an entirely different way than Schlingensief’s earlier projects, and that in these beginning stages of its construction and development it must work with a large network of local initiators and actors to sustain itself. However, they seem to see that this process is underway with the help and moderation of the Goethe-Institut. Only time will tell.

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