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Germany's cultural institute, the Goethe-Institut, will award its Goethe Medal 2021, honoring outstanding service in intercultural dialogue, to a trio of cultural figures in a livestreamed ceremony on Saturday, August 28. The 2021 recipients of the prize are the social economist and arts promoter Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell of Cameroon; the composer Toshio Hosokawa of Japan; and the dancer and choreographer Wen Hui of China.
In the award announcement, Goethe-Institut President Carola Lentz spoke of the challenges intercultural communication faces in light of the coronavirus pandemic, growing inequalities and colonial legacies: "This year's awardees don't shy away from these challenges. With their cultural and civil society commitment in three very different countries, they courageously lead the way and stand up with their art for an open, democratic and equal society — also across national borders."
Trio From Japan, Cameroon And China
Art and social activist Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell was born in Cameroon in 1957. She studied economics and has worked as a development expert for many years. In 1991, she co-founded the doual'art Contemporary Art Center, which works to shape the future of African museums through the promotion of contemporary art production, as well as promote artistic expression and achieve social change.
Bell, who is a descendent of King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, who resisted German colonialism, is committed to reappraising German colonial history in Cameroon and strengthening Cameroonian identity. Douala Manga Bell "takes a reconciliatory and forward-looking position on social conflicts and historic problems. She develops highly regarded ideas for coming to terms with colonial injustice as well as for consolidating Cameroon's own identity," the jury wrote.
Award-winning composer Toshio Hosokawa was born in Hiroshima in 1955 and came to Germany to study composition in 1976. His works include operas, orchestral and solo pieces, and chamber music, and many have been premiered by the world's top orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. Hosokawa's music often incorporates traditional Japanese influences and instruments and expresses the tension between Western avant-garde and traditional Japanese culture.
"The unique sound of his music transcends and turns the concert hall into a place of global encounter … he succeeds in combining culturally specific ways of listening to music into an extraordinary work of sound art, while preserving his own traditions," the jury wrote.
Choreographer, dancer and artist Wen Hui was born in Yunnan in 1960. She first studied at the Beijing Dance Academy in the 1980s and later in the United States and Europe. In 1994, she co-founded China's first independent dance theatre troop, the Living Dance Studio. Her works draw on elements of documentary film and themes from everyday life.
"Wen Hui stands for the independent and highly creative independent art scene in China, embodying cultural diversity and the broad spectrum of everyday stories beyond official narratives," the jury said.
Happy Birthday, Goethe
The Goethe Medal has been conferred as an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1975. It was first bestowed in 1955. In recent years, the award ceremony has taken place on August 28 — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's birthday — in Weimar, where the author spent much of his life. The Goethe-Institut is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021.
However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has limited the Goethe Medals ceremony, which will be taking place in a digital format rather than live. The ceremony can be viewed starting at 11 CEST (9 UTC). It will be held in conjunction with Deutsche Welle. The theme of this year's award is "Culture is a very special juice — in the network of the global community."
Candidates for the Goethe Medal are nominated by the Goethe Institutes overseas in collaboration with German diplomatic representation in the country. A commission of science, culture and art experts then pre-select the awardees, who must subsequently be confirmed by the board of trustees.
Past awardees have included conductor Daniel Barenboim, writer David Cornwell aka John le Carre, artist Shirin Neshat, composer Sofia Gubaidulina and philosopher Karl Popper, among many others.