GoetheNigeria@60: Commemorating Six Decades of Cultural Resilience

Yinka Olatunbosun

The hallway was beautifully decorated with colourful balloons as arriving guests trudged through, exchanging greetings and, in some cases, hugs. At the Lagos office of the Goethe Institut Nigeria in Victoria Island, history was rehashed through audio-visuals, podcasts, talk sessions, performance poetry, dramatic performances, and a children’s project. For the 60th anniversary of Goethe Nigeria, it was an open day.

The director, Goethe Institut, Nigeria, Dr. Nadine Siegert, was still sporting her yellow t-shirt whilst making some last-minute preparations for the day-long event in her office. She would later express her thoughts on the iconic celebrations.

“Yes, we are 60 and we are not just old but aged,” she began. “We are an aged institution with a very young heart, soul and brain so to say.  At the moment, we are younger than a year ago because we have done so many different things in the last year of which some of them are a bit exhausting but we feel rejuvenated I can say. We realised that a lot of the things we did were successful and we have new ideas, new projects and something that we are looking forward to.

“At 60, the celebration is recognizing our history and all the things that we have done in the past. We look a bit more into the past where we are looking into the history of the institute. We are very much also looking into the future; thinking about what the next years will bring us and what we can contribute to culture in Nigeria.This is why we feel young and old at the same time.”

Looking back to the past six decades, many directors have flown the cultural flag but unfortunately, the cultural institution has lost the records due to a fire incident at the City Hall, Lagos Island in the aftermath of the EndSARS protest. But Siegert does her own calculation based on procedure.

“We do not really have a lot of paper documents,” she continued. “What we are currently trying to get is oral history. It is something that you can find in Nigeria. It’s a place where you can find oral history so we have had a lot of conversations with people, so we have created a podcast series.

“So, every month, you will be able to listen to new episodes of the series. One of our staff members who has been here for 25 years and others feature partners and practitioners in the cultural sector that we have worked with. There should be around 12 directors because Goethe Institut directors rotate after five years. It might have been more than 12 because some directors didn’t stay long. 

“We have four longest serving members and we are able to celebrate the 25 years of their service this year. They will be receiving awards for their long-term engagement. When you listen to the first podcast, you can hear them speaking about how they came to the Goethe Institut, the ups and downs.”

Having spent over one year in Nigeria, Siegert is aware of the traffic situation that the staffers go through on a daily basis and for her, that’s a major concern. Still, she appreciates the diligence of the staff, some of whom have to work additional hours on weekends and late hours on nights of events.

Having lost most of their articles of history in Nigeria, the institution now relies on oral history from credible sources. One of these is the cultural archivist and veteran journalist, Jahman Anikulapo.

“We have worked with Jahman Anikulapo. He had been our partner for many years and told us a lot about past exhibitions. We have had a lot of art exhibitions in the past and featured many Nigerian artists such as Ndidi Dike. It was mainly in the 1990s. But in the 1960s, we were very much involved in the theatre. The Duro Ladipo Theatre coming from Osogbo and Goethe Institut was partnering with them-that is, the whole Osogbo movement of that time. We have a great pleasure to have one of our special guests, Chief Muraina Oyelami.”

Goethe Institut Nigeria has embraced diversity long before it became a buzzword. This has become a cherished attribute in many of the curated programmes as well as the research materials that are available for public use.

“First and foremost, within our own programme, we have a library that we recently opened and restocking books again,” she continued. “We have our cultural programmes that we intend to be as diverse as possible, and we have our language department of course. It is important to us because we just don’t offer German classes but we also try to have diversity for the candidates who want to migrate to meet their loved ones or to study. When we look at our cultural programme, we try not to only work with different sectors dance, film, visual arts, theatre and others, we also try to diversity in the age range that we work with within the Nigerian population. 

“The young people are a very strong focus for us. We also try to support more established artists on bigger projects and collaborate with them. We also try to look at more vulnerable groups like the young people on the mainland who do not have a big career yet. We also try to create a safe place for the queer community in Nigeria to have their projects and space where they can speak. We try to diversify in that sense as much as possible.”

She reassuredly stated that Goethe Nigeria is committed to being truthful to its mission, working together in a sense of exchange peace, producing something good for the common good. 

“We live together on this planet. That is why we called one of our projects planetary thinking. It is all about living and working together and ensuring that we create a peaceful world together. And give space to everyone.”

Some of the showcased films are projects that Goethe Nigeria had supported in the past. The institution relies on resources and media archives in Nigeria to help document the history better.

In her assessment of Nigeria’s cultural life and the current security situation that is forcing some expatriates to leave Nigeria, she expressed optimism in the future of arts. 

“I feel safe. I feel very welcomed and I am grateful for this hospitality and most of the people are really open and friendly to me. I would say 99%. I feel very good for the fact that Goethe Institut can make a contribution makes me very happy. I hear about the floods and the security situation. I think this is a global thing. It is not Nigeria’s responsibility that we have so much rain or terrorism. It is a global thing and we all have to work on it together. There are lots of responsibilities for these things lying in Europe.   We have to find global solutions together. This is our generational responsibility. And when we can do all that through language and culture, that will be better.”

Still, she is not immune to the pressure to quit. Often, it could be a recurring thought or extreme fatigue that triggers such feeling but she doesn’t seem to be the type to shrink back in fear. Surely, she is ready for the tough but hopeful days ahead.

“There are moments when I am a bit tired and there are moments when I ask myself if it is really worth it to get up every morning and do this work. But it is worth it because it makes people believe in something. Those beautiful moments we share when we listen to music together, watch movies together help to create a sense of community. Only arts and culture can create that. And I wish that maybe in the next year’s elections, there will be some new hope coming to the people who believe in their country and its greatness and beauty. I wish Nigeria all the best.”

Related Articles