In Memory of Ulli Beier, 1922-2011

From Thorolf Lipp
Sent Monday, April 04, 2011 8:37 AM
Ulli Beier passes at age 88

Ulli Beier, is dead, he died yesterday, April 3 2011, at 88 years old in his residence in Annandale, Sydney Australia.

Ulli was a very important teacher, mentor and spiritual inspiration for me and his passing does make me sad. But many memories remain and that fills me with great joy. It was a wonderful privilege to know this outstanding man, learn from him, and work, laugh, dine and drink with him.

Born in Germany in 1922, Ulli came to Nigeria in 1950, he was married to the renowned Austrian artist and later high priestess of the Osun Groove in Oshogbo Suzanne Wenger. He joined the Extra Mural Studies Department at the then University College Ibadan, he Later traveled to several Yoruba towns and villages organizing classes for the willing participants. After living in Ede and Ilobu, Ulli settled in Osogbo in 1958. Known for his passion for Yoruba arts and culture, as a literary person, He helped publish books on Yoruba festivals and religion. He co-founded the Mbari-Mbayo Artists and Writers Club together with Late Duro Ladipo of 'Oba-Koso' fame. He was once the Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ife before he left Nigeria for Papua New Guinea.

While in Papua New Guinea, he co-organised with Georgina Beier the country's first art exhibition, at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Centre for New Guinea Cultures, featuring artwork by Timothy Akis. Ulli Beier created the literary periodical Kovave: A Journal of New Guinea literature, which reproduced works by Papua New Guinean artists including Timothy Akis and Mathias Kauage. His efforts have been described as significant in facilitating the emergence of Papua New Guinean literature. While in Papua New Guinea, he encouraged Albert Maori Kiki to record his autobiography, which Beier transcribed and edited. The book, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime was published in 1968.

Ulli returned to Germany in the early 80s to found IWALEWA Haus a center for contemporary arts mainly from Africa and Oceania and part of Bayreuth university. With a brief interruption – and despite his age - he held this position until the end of 1996.

During all these years he remained in close contact with  his many friends from the Pacific who were frequently visiting IWALEWA Haus. In 1995 and 1997/8 he was invited by Epeli Hau’ofa to take up the position of a guest professor at the University of the South Pacific in the then newly founded Oceania Center for Arts and Culture.

He spent his last years in Sydney, writing and publishing, until his energy dwindled rather recently.

I remember a Yoruba saying that Ulli often quoted: If an old man dies, you shall not weep but congratulate his family for that his life has come full circle. My thoughts are with his wife Georgina and his sons Sebastian and Tunji.

Thorolf Lipp