On 28 August, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut, awarded the Goethe Medal to the Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi, the writer Yurii Andrukhovych from Ukraine and the Georgian museum director David Lordkipanidze. The Goethe-Institut confers the official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany to honour figures who have performed outstanding service to convey the German language and promote international cultural relations. This was the 62nd conferment of the Goethe Medal.

Awardees 2016: Akinbode Akinbiyi, Juri Andruchowytsch and David Lordkipanidze (Photo: Maik Schuck) Awardees 2016: Akinbode Akinbiyi, Juri Andruchowytsch and David Lordkipanidze (Photo: Maik Schuck) “This year’s awardees are three tireless intercultural mediators, three outstanding personalities who deal in their work with the highly topical focus of today’s conferment, ‘Migration of Cultures – Cultures of Migration’ in photography, in science and in literature,” stated Klaus-Dieter Lehmann on the awarding of Akinbode Akinbiyi, Yurii Andrukhovych and David Lordkipanidze with the 2016 Goethe Medal. “Without cultural understanding, without the capability to engage in dialogue, our world will become less and less recognizable. That precisely is why it needs people with the ability to deal with cultural disparities, with knowledge of other models of coexistence, with multilingualism and with empathy that they employ again and again to balance out conflicting cultural patterns,” he continued. “All three awardees openly and firmly advocate encounters and dialogues with Germany and are crucial voices in the cultural and intellectual discourse in their home countries. All three know the challenges of migration from personal experience and grapple with it. For us, they are loyal friends, astute interlocutors, critical advisors, important companions and, not infrequently, pioneers in the work of the Goethe-Instituts abroad.”
The Goethe Medal award ceremony at Schloss Weimar was attended by the vice minister-president of the state of Thuringia and finance minister Heike Taubert, by Andreas Görgen, the head of the department of Culture and Communications at Germany’s Foreign Office and by the mayor of the City of Weimar, Stefan Wolf.
Akinbode Akinbiyi is one of the most prominent African photographers worldwide. In the mid-1970s he began to photograph as an autodidact and, after stays in Heidelberg and Munich, finally moved to West Berlin where he has lived ever since. Akinbode Akinbiyi’s focuses are reportage, architectural and cultural photography. The main focus of his work is on rapidly growing and changing African megacities. His pictures have been shown at exhibitions and biennials in Tokyo, Paris, Philadelphia, Johannesburg and Havana, and have been published in various magazines. “Far from clichés and exoticism, the photographer moves elegantly between different cultural contexts, conveys to us an impression of the most varied of urban lifestyles, opens horizons without judging what he’s seen or exaggerating his own views,” emphasized the artist and photographer Eva Leitolf in her laudatory speech for Akinbode Akinbiyi. “His pictures are both a gift and a challenge; an invitation to take the time to look, not only to consume images,” she said. “Reduced to the essential, his black and white photography,” in Leitolf’s interpretation, “becomes a quiet act of resistance, a reduction of the world around us, to the reserved tones of the grey scale, to symbols and structures.” In addition to his work as a photographer, Akinbode Akinbiyi works internationally as a curator and author. He usually writes the texts that accompany his exhibitions himself. The project “Centers of learning for photography in Africa” initiated by Akinbode Akinbiyi and the Goethe-Institut Nigeria has also made him an important mentor of young photographers from Africa. Next year he will take part in documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel with new works.
Yurii Andrukhovych is considered one of the most important intellectual voices of Ukraine. As a writer, poet, essayist and translator, he is part of the critical, creative scene that reflects and advances civil society processes after the Maidan revolution. Andrukhovych is a staunch supporter of Ukraine on its way to Europe and makes efforts to bring about convergence between Western and Eastern Europe. Yurii Andrukhovych is closely linked to Germany due to several scholarship residencies. He held a visiting professorship at the Institute of Slavic Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in 2014. He translates German poets such as Rainer Maria Rilke into Ukrainian, thus giving Ukrainian readers new access to the German classics. With his own writing, he introduced the German audience to the literary territory of his homeland. In her laudatory speech for Yurii Andrukhovych, the translator Sabine Stöhr described him and his fictional characters as “wanderers between worlds.” His work, according to Stöhr, who translated most of his work from Ukrainian into German, “is distinguished precisely by the fact that it celebrates diversity and questions cherished beliefs, both his own and that of others.” Three of his novels that were written and published during the 1990s have gained the greatest public responses: Rekreaciji (1992), Moscoviada (1993, German edition 2006) and Perverzion (1996, German edition 2011). His work has been translated and published around the world.
The director general of the Georgian National Museum, David Lordkipanidze, is one of the most prestigious paleoanthropologists and archaeologists worldwide. For more than 20 years he has led the excavations of Dmanisi in Georgia. David Lordkipanidze became famous mainly by the finds there of 1.8 million-year-old skeletal remains of early hominids. This discovery and its scientific evaluation revolutionized existing knowledge about early human development and migration. Under his influence, Georgian museology, which pursues a special social mission in multi-ethnic, post-Soviet Georgia, has lastingly internationalized and modernized. In her laudatory speech, the president of the German Archaeological Institute, Friederike Fless, emphasized, “As director general of the National Museum of Georgia, David Lordkipanidze strongly and successfully ensures that scientific findings are related in a way that is universally understandable.  For him, science is not only for scientists. It belongs in the public space of museums, exhibitions and education at the excavation sites.” David Lordkipanidze is networked worldwide and has been working closely alongside the Goethe-Institut with renowned German partners in culture and education such as the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. His initiative for the Berlin exhibition of prehistoric Georgian gold discoveries Medea’s Gold in 2007 at the Altes Museum made a decisive contribution to German-Georgian cultural relations.
The Goethe Medal was established by the executive committee of the Goethe-Institut in 1954 and acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975. The Goethe Medal is awarded on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s birthday, 28 August.
Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 341 figures from 63 countries have been honoured. The awardees have included Adonis, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell AKA John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Ágnes Heller, Ariane Mnouchkine, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Robert Wilson, Neil MacGregor and Helen Wolff. 

The award ceremony is organized in close partnership with the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and the City of Weimar. The conversation with the three awardees is being held in cooperation with Kunstfest Weimar. The photography exhibition by Akinbode Akinbiyi is being held in cooperation with the Kunstfest Weimar and the Galerie Eigenheim.