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Learning Deutsch© Mazen Kerbaj 2021

Learning Deutsch


After moving with his family from Beirut to Berlin, experimental musician and visual artist Mazen Kerbaj finds himself confronted with a new language, a new world. He decides to learn German in his own way. Discussions with the Goethe-Institut Lebanon resulted in an unconventional method of language learning, a trilingual dictionary: one word per day, over 365 days, accompanied by illustrations by the artist.

We create and inhabit worlds of meaning through language. How we learn to use language, what experiences we gain when learning a new language, shapes our understanding of these worlds; the way we move through and within them. Based on this understanding, the Goethe-Institut is constantly searching for new methods of language learning, whether directly related to its language courses, or to its cultural activities. In this spirit, a collaboration between the multifaceted artist Mazen Kerbaj and the Goethe-Institut Lebanon was born around the end of 2018. 

In this word (image) book, in which the drawings are presented in the chronological order of their creation, the definition of a word is on the one hand conveyed by an image, a drawing, and on the other by the word's equivalent in the artist's native language, Arabic, as well as in the lingua franca of today's world, English. The dictionary therefore functions as an intimate diary of the artist; an open diary that lets us into the intimacy of the artist and his everyday life. Page by page, word by word, we follow Mazen Kerbaj in his learning process, discovering his family, his friends, his passions, his habits, his travels, or even his political views. The book can ultimately be read as the story of a Middle Eastern artist who moved to Germany. 

The drawings are often funny, but sometimes sad and touching; they rarely simply illustrate the words, but answer them with Kerbaj's typical satirical counterpoints. 

Kerbaj, who works in fields as diverse as music, visual arts, comics, and theater, is one of the key figures of the post-civil war Lebanese art scene. His work has been published in more than ten languages and exhibited in galleries, museums and art fairs around the world.