Africa is radically changing and digitization features prominently in contemporary African imaginaries and realities. The mobile phone boom and the development of mobile-enabled banking services demonstrate that African specific digital practices are very lively and start to shape globalized digital technologies. The diverse digital scenes that emerged in the few well-connected African hubs provide new perspectives, metropolitan pride, and a sense of global participation.
The exhibition Africas in Production is part of the project Digital Imaginaries that started in spring 2018 with events in Senegal and continued in South Africa before coming to ZKM Karlsruhe. Throughout 2018, institutions and project partners in Dakar, Johannesburg, and Karlsruhe collaborated through a series of distinct but linked programs, consisting of workshops, seminars, talks, residencies, performances, and exhibitions.
Collectively, these events brought together artists, architects, makers, hackers, and researchers to question and reimagine how globalized digital technologies shape and shift African futures. Exhibition project at ZKM Karlsruhe is the third leg of the project which will conclude in 2019 with a collectively edited publication.
Digital Imaginaries – Africas in Production features numerous new works developed during the project. In addition, the exhibition presents documentations of the Dakar and Johannesburg events and additional videos, photographs, sculptures, and installations that broaden its scope.
The works from Gabon, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as the African diaspora in France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America presented in this exhibition do not offer a unified narrative.
Yet, together they challenge dominant digital imaginaries and thus contribute to richer, more diverse configurations of the digital.
The Digital Imaginaries events in Dakar and Johannesburg both activated locally specific histories and contemporary practices to explore what futures the digital might hold for Africa, and what Africa might contribute to the digital. Many of the works in the ZKM exhibition employ a similar strategy.
Going beyond critique, they refract the digital through contemporary African concerns, situations, practices, or histories to enrich and reconfigure digital practices. In doing so, they reveal that the notion of a homogeneous global digital space is nothing but another instance of particular market-driven patterns of thought and interest posing as universals. By engaging with African specificities, they are thus expanding the horizon that delimits what kinds of digital futures are imaginable – in Africa, in Europe, and around the globe.
The Afropixel Festival Dakar constituted the first leg of the Digital Imaginaries project, and ran from February to May 2018. Afropixel is an initiative by project partner Kër Thiosanne, an independent multimedia art space in Dakar. Dedicated to Non-Aligned Utopias, the festival’s sixth edition focused on African initiatives that employ digital technologies and practices critically to reclaim local practices as means of action and emancipation.
An exhibition at the Wits Art Museum and a series of linked workshops plus the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival in Johannesburg represented the second leg of the project. The Johannesburg exhibition that ran from July to September 2018 drew on the notion of “premonition” and the extensive collection of African art at the Wits Art Museum to explore links between algorithmic prediction, ceremonial hallucinations, fractal mathematics, spiritual-digital urban spaces, traditional beadwork, and divination objects. It thus activated the museum collection and the wider African archive to reconsider contemporary digital practices.
Participating artists: Larry Achiampong / Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, L’Africaine d’architecture / Younes Baba-Ali / David Blandy / Tegan Bristow, Alex Coelho, Russel Hlongwane & João Roxo / Kombo Chapfika / Joshua Chiundiza / CUSS Group / Milumbe Haimbe aka ArtisTrophe / Olalekan Jeyifous & Wale Lawal / Isaac Kariuki / Wanuri Kahiu / Francois Knoetze / Maurice Mbikayi / DK Osseo Asare & Yasmine Abbas, Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) / Marcus Neustetter / Tabita Rezaire / The Nest Collective