Opening of the Vila Sul in Salvador Base camp for the south-south dialogue

Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, the regional director of the Goethe-Instituts in South America; Georg Witschel, the German ambassador in Brazil; Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut; Norbert Lammert, the president of the Bundestag and Manfred Stoffl, Manfred Stoffl, the head of the Goethe-Institut Salvador Bahia at the opening ceremony of the
Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, the regional director of the Goethe-Instituts in South America; Georg Witschel, the German ambassador in Brazil; Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut; Norbert Lammert, the president of the Bundestag and Manfred Stoffl, Manfred Stoffl, the head of the Goethe-Institut Salvador Bahia at the opening ceremony of the "Vila Sul" (l.t.r.). | Photo: Caroline Paternostro

The Goethe-Institut is opening its first residency house in the southern hemisphere in Salvador de Bahia. In future, artists and intellectuals will press the south-south dialogue ahead in the Vila Sul. The former capital of colonial Brazil will form the exciting backdrop for this dialogue.

The world turned upside down
 
The Brazilian Foreign Minister usually receives visitors in front of a huge tapestry. It is a knotted world map dating from 1503 that confuses viewers because the world seems to be upside down: the south of the globe is at the top, in the centre of the map. This is how the Portuguese saw the world upon their arrival in Brazil. This is also the perspective from which Brazil’s diplomats view their country globally. The map is not decoration; it is the agenda. The surprisingly contemporary message is: look here, the south is at the centre of the world.
 
The statement could also be the leitmotif for the latest of three residency houses that the Goethe-Institut has now opened, first in Kyoto and Istanbul, and now in Salvador. It is called Vila Sul: the “village of the south.”

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, Norbert Lammert and Georg Witschel right before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, Norbert Lammert and Georg Witschel right before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. | Photo: Caroline Paternostro “It is when societies least want change that they need it the most”
 
“Our worldwide south-south dialogue will be focused in Salvador,” said Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut at the opening ceremony. Each year, up to 24 cultural professionals, artists, scientists and journalists will live and work there for two to three months. “Vila Sul will be their base camp,” Lehmann explained. “Their personal encounters will generate continuous learning processes and communities.”
 
Not only Germans, but art-makers from all over the world will work and live there. Norbert Lammert, the president of the Bundestag who also journeyed to the opening, recalled that it is not cultures that communicate with each other, but people. “It is when societies least want change that they need it the most,” Norbert Lammert said, in assessment of the social transformation processes taking place all over the world. “Art and culture are crucial mediators of these changes for society.” With its power, art is capable of initiating basic social processes.
 
Exchange of ideas across borders
 
Norbert Lammert reminded the gathering that exactly forty years ago Wolf Biermann was expatriated from the GDR after his appearance in Cologne. “In hindsight this was seen the beginning of the end of the regime,” Lammert said. Georg Witschel, the German ambassador in Brazil, explained that artists who opened “minds and hearts,” or the exchange of ideas across borders, are particularly important now, “in times of political con games, where growing nationalism is used in an attempt to find easy answers to complex problems.”

  • Photo: Aldren Lincoln Photo: Aldren Lincoln
    Photo: Aldren Lincoln
  • Photo: Aldren Lincoln Photo: Aldren Lincoln
    Photo: Aldren Lincoln
  • Photo: Aldren Lincoln Photo: Aldren Lincoln
    Photo: Aldren Lincoln
  • Photo: Caroline Paternostro Photo: Caroline Paternostro
    Photo: Caroline Paternostro

The first residents, among them Adolphe Binder (designated artistic director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal), Grada Kilomba (writer, academic and interdisciplinary artist), Christoph Bieber (political scientist) and Sigrid Garais (dramaturge, curator for dance) have already lived and worked in the Vila Sul since October 2016. For the opening, Jürgen Kirner, a stage designer from Berlin, presented a German-Brazilian joint work together with the actress Iami Rebouças and the dramaturge Aldri Anunciação. “A Woman on the Bottom of the Sea” was the name of the impressive solo piece, in which the audience in the studio theatre of the Goethe-Institut actually felt they had been moved to the sandy seabed.
 
Earlier in the year, the pop theorist Diedrich Diederichsen had also done research for several months tracing the footsteps of the German writer Hubert Fichte in South America on behalf of a Goethe project. In a lecture, he interpreted Salvador’s rich musical tradition as an avant-garde art, in which sounds democratically blend without interfering with one another.
 
Living among the mango trees
 
The Goethe-Institut is opening its first residency house in the southern hemisphere in Salvador de Bahia. The Goethe-Institut is opening its first residency house in the southern hemisphere in Salvador de Bahia. | Photo: Aldren Lincoln From now on, new residents will travel to Salvador de Bahia every two months. With a fully equipped studio theatre, two galleries, an inner courtyard surrounded by huge mango trees and a library, the institute offers ideal conditions for cultural encounters. During their stay, the artists live in loft-style apartments on the top floor of the Goethe-Institut. They share a spacious eat-in kitchen so that the participants can also communicate with one another.
 
“Without anticipating the result and without a set purpose, participants should try out new ways of viewing art and culture,” says Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, the regional director of the Goethe-Instituts in South America.
 
Due to its localization, the institute is perfectly suited as an international meeting place for art-makers in the south-south dialogue. The renovated villa is located in the centre of the city of three million. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and for centuries the hub of the worldwide slave trade. Because of its Afro-Brazilian roots, the state of Bahia is regarded as the cradle of Brazilian national culture.
 
Global power structures from the southern perspective
 
The Goethe-Institut has existed here since 1962. Under the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964 to 1985), the Brazilian opposition and art scene used it as a refuge from state repression – for which the Goethe-Institut still has a legendary reputation in the cultural scene. “Worldwide there are few other places that are so predestined for rethinking global power structures from the southern perspective than Salvador,” says Manfred Stoffl, the head of the Goethe-Institut.
 
The close relations between Brazil and the Goethe-Institut can be traced back to the name-giver. For although Goethe did not go to Brazil, as Klaus-Dieter Lehmann explained, in his last few years as privy counsellor he dealt so intensively with Brazil that he was regarded as “the Brazilian” in Weimar. With its residency program in Salvador, it seems as though the German cultural institute has returned to its ideational roots.
 
Alexander Busch


Partners of the residency Vila Sul are the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Musicboard Berlin, Kunststiftung Sachsen-Anhalt and CALQ (Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec ).