Germany’s Turn

Yinka Shonibare’s installation ‘Scramble for Africa’ (Berlin, Germany, 2010)

If Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima’s award winning film Teza (2009) is anything to go by, Germany’s relationship to art coming from African producers can be a helpful model. After fifteen years of trying to complete his film, he was finally able to release it worldwide with some help from German backers. Gerima rewrote parts of the script to take place in Germany, and independently casted and edited the film, keeping its integrity intact. Just a year earlier, a German university funded its first professorship in African Art. But what to make of Germany’s newest arts funding program for the African continent?

The German Federal Cultural Foundation (a government program) hopes to reinvigorate its relationship to the African continent through TURN, a 2 million euro art and culture initiative that will last through 2015. Wanting to build off the desire to have storehouses in Africa for pieces of cultural memory produced and preserved by Africans themselves, they created a new international program. Their goal, they say in a press release (pdf),

is to allow cultural institutions in Germany to gain knowledge about the art scenes in African countries, and by means of cooperative ventures between African and German artists and institutions, spark new impulses in the German cultural and artistic sector.

TURN in fact encourages German institutions to stage events involved in the program not only in Germany, but in Africa as well. Much like the American Fulbright scholarship, applicants must apply in conjunction with a German institution. However, unlike the Fulbright, the German institution assumes responsibility for ensuring that all funds are spent as contractually agreed upon. On the other hand, German institutions can also apply to do research projects in Africa, they need not jointly apply with local centers. Nor will the funds be distributed by said centers. This is in line with the initiative’s stated goal, though its fairness is questionable.

And who will determine the allocation of funds?

The three-person-jury is comprised of Sandro Lunin, a Swiss theater artistic director who has previously worked in Bamako and elsewhere, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, an art writer and the only jury member of African descent, and Jay Rutledge, a popular DJ and music journalist who has closely followed popular music in sub-Saharan Africa.

TURN’s biggest critic so far is Safia Dickersbach, the PR director of Artfacts.Net, an online art database located in Berlin. Dickersbach writes on her blog:

Does “TURN” really “revolutionize” the hegemonial treatment of the value and quality of African traditions and idiosyncrasies by the European art establishment which we have observed for too long? Will the time come when numerous diverse art scenes, creative communities and cultural circles on the African continent finally be taken seriously and treated as an equal, a partner that has an opinion – a voice that must be heard?

It’s great when funds can be made available to institutions and artists to progress their work, and the exposure it receives. Hopefully the integrity of the African artists and institutions involved can be maintained through what may be an unbalanced initiative.

8 thoughts on “Germany’s Turn

  1. Germany isn’t just funding Arts…..they are funding all disciplines and just like TURN, the German institutions involved are in charge of ensuring that the money is disseminated accordingly. In some cases, they get African governments to chip in. Just like the author, in my opinion, this is excellent news if all they are doing is ensuring good quality education in Africa. Of course considering past events, skepticism is inevitable.

  2. As we continue to mortgage our continent inch by inch. We need African funds to do this. Not European funds. No matter what. Long term we become deeper and deeper into debt. There is no such thing as free money, regardless of it being a grants. And awards, etc.

  3. Write a letter to Deinde Fernandez, a Yoruba billionaire who fools people he’s Angolan when in Angola. A greed mastermind, he also enjoys accolades. So find his address (some French castle) and ask him to STEP UP. His money is directly from Nigerian Oil and tin, and Angolan diamonds(?) through no smooth means. He’s also tried to implicate Mandela! Get UN ‘Ambassador’ for immunity.

    People talk endlessly of Europe raping Africa. Well, The African man is raping himself and his future children.

  4. Also Yinka Shonibare’s installations are so stupid.

    PS: correct in above comment: “Gets UN ‘Ambassador’ for immunity”

  5. Safia Dickersbach, “the PR director of Artfacts.Net” is talking about “hegemonial treatment” – one doesn’t know if to laugh or to cry. is not a “database”, it’s a for-profit corporation: Artfacts.Net™ Ltd. (London), which is why they need a bumptious PR director as well as a Marketing director in the first place. Of course they don’t like when the state bureaucracy mingles in things that they think should be outsourced to them, after all they do is making money from the “discovery” and following monetization of art. Adding some meaningless PoMo-lingo speech-bubbles to the work of the newest member of the exclusive club of authentic spokes-natives on the global market is what fills their coffers. So much for “integrity”…
    As opposed to the rent-seeking of, the stated goal of the publicly financed German TURN-initiative is to foster societal partnerships with and strengthen the institutions for artistic and cultural projects in African countries – besides the mechanisms of the global art-market. So there is at least a chance for artists outside the capitalist mainstream and for the creation of “an institutionally-constituted realm of limited freedom” (Gene Ray) that art under capitalism can exist in, and for a medium-term outcome for African local initiatives and institutions instead of the instant monetization of l’art pour l’argent and the following implosion of creativity and cultural desolation.
    And if you need a “database” for art, artists and so on, don’t use private service providers like, trying to build commercial monopolies and foster buyer-seller relations, but rather use and support wikis/wikipedia, non-profit organisations, search engines in public domain and other creative commons that are open for free use for all.

    • You always notice that a critique has hit home when the people whom you criticize resort to cheap personal attacks. That is the explanation behind the abusive diatribe that YY has started against me personally and against the company I am working for. So the interesting question is first who is somewhat cowardly hiding behind the pseudonym YY. Interestingly enough, if you click on YY you get to a website called “eipcp – European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policy”. When you check out this website, you get to a list of people who apparently constitute this institute headed by one Mr. Boris Buden. When you then continue to check out what Mr. Boris Buden did so far, you stumble upon countless cultural projects, books, events, symposiums, panel discussions and so on which were financed or at least co-sponsored by the German Kulturstiftung. The same is true when you check out this ominous “institute” and search for it in connection with the German Kulturstiftung. Just copy and google these words: Boris Buden Kulturstiftung des Bundes or eipcp Kulturstiftung des Bundes. They have – to put it reservedly – close ties. Others might say: They are big time buddies. So the fact seems to be clear: Whoever is behind YY seems to be somebody whose activities on the cultural scene are financed to a sizable extent by taxpayer’s money which is at least partly provided by the German Kulturstiftung and who then finds his delight in bashing market forces in the art world. Or in other words: He who pays the piper calls the tune. This should just serve as an introduction in order to make sure that the readers of this blog can put YY’s comments into their proper context and assess them correctly: Against this background it is no surprise that YY attacks me for critically discussing the Kulturstiftung’s new Africa program TURN. Now to the points YY is mentioning:

      1. I have published my personal opinion and critical viewpoint as an African who was born and raised in Tanzania and who now found a home of choice in Germany and not in connection with my professional work for Artfacts.Net. So it is both polemic and totally besides the point to falsely reproach Artfacts.Net when I personally as an African criticize the German Kulturstiftung’s TURN program for not treating the African side in this prospective cultural exchange program appropriately. My professional occupation has nothing to do with the contents of my critical opinion text except if you want to use it for an insulting campaign. Obviously YY is not interested in a constructive debate, as he only mentions TURN once and devotes the rest of his pamphlet Artfacts.Net. Any form of a competent and honest exchange about the substance of the matter would begin with a communication of some sort about the actual issues and with confidently stating who you are. But YY prefers to stay in the dark: This is almost like 30 Ku Klux Klan members beating up a single black guy in some deep dark forest in the Southern United States while all of them are still wearing their white Ku Klux Klan hoods in order to keep their identities secret. Or is it maybe that YY is generalizing that all Marvel super heroes are hiding behind masks as well? Is the German Kulturstiftung now in need of such a masked hero to protect it from a single African’s criticism?

      2. Artfacts.Net is first and foremost an exhibition guide for museums, galleries, biennials and other art institutions. The current exhibition calendar which Artfacts.Net publishes on its website is available free of charge to any internet user as is the information on individual galleries, museums and artists which is provided there as well. Only certain complex extracts/analyses from the database which Artfacts.Net has built up on the basis of its long-lasting work as exhibition guide and which are used as a professional research tool are offered against payment. It is YY’s secret how these for most users cost-free services should “build commercial monopolies”, “monetize art” and lead to “cultural desolation”. But these are the phantasmagorias and intellectual excesses of “progressive institute members” who are proud of their anti-capitalistic merits.

      3. But I have to be careful that I do not also miss the point what the article above and my critique which is mentioned in this article are all about: Kulturstiftung’s TURN project which – different from what YY is saying – is not about “strengthening the institutions for artistic and cultural projects in African countries”, but which is rather about fostering the German art and culture scene, as it now comes out after my open letter has been published and as a TURN jury member later on conceded in a comment on Facebook: “They’ve also said that the fund is about the ‘German institutional art-and-culture-scene’ and not about ‘supporting African contemporary art institutions’, but I’ll leave them to clarify that. ” This is exactly the problem: German Kulturstiftung is announcing an important new policy focus on Africa and completely excludes the arts and culture institutions in African countries from the application process. So even “publicly financed institutions” which apparently treated YY so dearly are not able to deal with their partners of choice on the African continent on an equal footing although they use our taxpayer’s money to whom the African diaspora contributed its part. So there is no need to invoke the bad market forces which YY is apparently able to ignore due to – in his case – Kulturstiftung’s generous subsidies which maybe would have been better invested to increase TURN’s insufficient budget.

      4. Just to remind YY what my (and not Artfacts.Net’s) criticism was mostly about: The main point out of the 5 points explained more in detail in my blog is the fact that the funding guidelines of the program prevent any active participation of African art institutions and exclude the artists and art communities in African countries from independently applying for the funds. The funding guidelines tell the other side of a prospective cultural exchange in a very roundabout way what in blunt words would be: Sorry, but we cannot trust you, the German art and culture institutions have to first discover you, choose you and then they have to be the lead partner in the exchange, because with bookkeeping we have to rely on the German institutions. This disrespectful treatment is especially annoying because it was not the arts and culture communities on the African continent who in the first place asked for being included in some cultural exchange program with Germany, but it was the German Kulturstiftung’s decision to say: Now we are starting a big new policy focus on Africa, we need it and we want it. This approach reminded me very much of the paternalistic attitude (or “hegemonial treatment” as YY quoted me) which characterized the way Europeans dealt with Africans in former centuries. Nowadays it is a sign of a lack of intercultural competence which is even more surprising coming from a board and its jury of Western-educated intellectuals with an academic background in cultural and political sciences, culture management, public administration, anthropology, African studies etc. All these studies are apparently not sufficient to ensure enough simple human common sense: If you want to approach somebody for an exchange program, you show some form of respect and etiquette in the contact which the program’s structure and funding requirements of TURN do not transmit at all.

    • I just googled ‘Boris Buden Kulturstiftung des Bundes or eipcp’ as I found the eipcp website related to YY is very confusing. From what I gathered from Google it indeed seems that his entire life is financed by Kulturstiftung des Bundes. I was not aware that they fund a single individual to that extent. Boris Buden must clearly have very tight connections to the Kulturstiftung des Bundes or the individuals in charge of it. This also explains the personal tenor of YY’s post, be it Boris Buden or any of the other people listed on the board of eipcp. Judging by the content of ‘YY’s’ post it is clear that (s)he feels personally affected by the discussion, that means (s)he is either personally connected to a member of TURN or the German Kulturstiftung. Otherwise it makes no sense for her/him to insult Safia Dickersbach personally or the institution she works for; (s)he would have instead focused on the points discussed in the article above and the one by Safia Safia Dickersbach on her blog ( Individuals that take this personal are somehow questionable, their motivation, too.

  6. I knew that I had got to the heart of the matter when I got a lengthy reply on my post by Ms. Diefenbach in person, fantasizing paranoid about who I am, how I pay my rent and what the sinister motivation behind my criticism of her way of arguing and her business-model must be – in her self-imagination only some neocolonialist bureaucrat on the payroll of the German state could be critical of that, I suppose, but that is clearly delusional. So certainly, to cry “30 Ku Klux Klan members beating up a single black guy in some deep dark forest in the Southern United States while all of them are still wearing their white Ku Klux Klan” in this context (an internet discussion of a blogpost!), shows that there is no point in continuing the argument as there is none.
    Considering the bile my comment tapped into I’m indeed very glad I commented anonymously. Believe it or not, I’m not Boris Buden, I never got money from the Kulturstiftung des Bundes, I linked to the text “On the Conditions of Anti-Capitalist Art, Radical Cultural Practices and the Capitalist Art System” of Gene Ray as it was related to the anti-capitalist point I was trying to make and from which I quoted. So perhaps Ms. Diefenbach should have read it and focused more on its content instead of fantasizing conspiracies on the base of where that blog is hosted etc., and of political and institutional mechanisms she either does not understand or deliberately tried to misrepresent. And why should I have myself smeared for criticising the slimy capitalist bullshit-racket that is the current art system (and of which Ms. Diefenbach is a part and therefore a legitimate target of critique) or have people insinuating sinister motives on the base of my personal background? It simply doesn’t matter for the argument, but of course for people who freely associate instead of arguing it matters, after all, throwing mud is all they can. And no, I feel myself forced to repeat: to leave art to the Artfacts.Net™ Ltd.s and Saskia Diefenbachs “market forces” is definitely not a good idea, be it in Africa, Europe or wherever, however public initiatives like TURN can play a progressive role.

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