Addis is a city of contradiction, as far as the eye can see the city is littered with scaffolding. You zip past bare boned sky scrapers, half completed highways where everything seems to be influx. You can physically see the open sores of ’development’. The recently completed metro system is the unmistakable crowning glory of modernity, slicing through the city reeling from the effects of rapid urbanization.
It is here that I was invited to participate in Addis in motion, an art project that involved six female Ethiopian artists interested in investigating the changes of their cities. Over delicious Ethiopian coffee and popcorn they invited me into their studios and homes where we discussed their concerns and themes of their work.
There is a strong feeling in Addis that the residents have little say in how their city is changing. Citizens feel left out of the conversation and often face forced evictions that leave them displaced to the outskirts of the city. Lack of participation is a hard fact. Issues of censorship, the tension between government and artists are harsh realities for these artists.
One artist recalled the difficult engaging in public and urban art projects.
“We do not have freedom. There is a fear of whether or not as an artist, as a female artist we can freely speak about the problems we see everyday.”
Another artist described the hardship in organizing performance and public art;
“You need to have a permit from the government in order to do any public performance, or street art. In order to get a permit you have to apply through the micro-finance office and you have to pitch your project under the guise of it being a commercial entity like a circus. Even then you are not guaranteed that your project will be approved and there is still fear of censorship or that you might get arrested. The truth is that the government, the public, does not fundamentally understand the role of artists in public space, this is a legacy left over through our education”.
An additional artist remarked;
“ We have stories to tell, but the challenge is to clearly communicate with the public. There is a great distance between the artist and the everyday people of addis;”
Through these conversations I was challenged to give some insight into how digital art in Africa could be used as a tool for intervention.
Concerns about Addis Ababa
– Displacement of people
– Absence of communal space
– homogenization of culture and belief systems
– the changing architecture and social organization
– erasure of memory
– changing face of class system
– resistance to globalization
Possibilities of Digital Art
Digital art can serve as a tool to alter perceptions and relationships with urban spaces through digital inventions and interventions.It is an alternative medium that can invite artists to address some of these issues. For me digital art allows the concrete and tangible to interact with the improbabilities of the virtual world. Here are a few examples of how digital art and technologies can be employed in urban settings like Addis;
Virtual Reality is offering african artists away to visualize alternative realities. Virtual reality is not a new form of digital technology, however due to recent developments it is becoming increasing affordable. With the development of oculus rift technologies virtual reality is taking on a new form within spaces in Africa.
One such example is the recent project coming from Ghana. Last year, Pandora was released, a short film using experimental virtual technology re-imagined an ancient Greek Myth retold through virtual environments. Immersive virtual reality environments could be a visual storytelling tool about the hidden stories of addis, as well as a tool to portray speculative visions of the city.
Imagine if we could easily and affordably wear virtual goggles and take a tour of the city of Addis and see the city like we have never seen before. We could see visions of the past, present and future interacting simeontaneously. Thanks to the development of initiatives like Google Cardboard this is now a possibility.
Google cardboard was launched in 2015 as a platform developed by google that utilized fold-out cardboard mount for mobile devices. It is intended as a low-cost system to encourage interest and development in VR and VR applications. The initiative also offers a burgeoning developer community, tools and DIY information for artist to participate in the development of VR applications.
Similar to virtual reality applications, projection mapping is growing increasingly popular. Projection mapping is a technology used to turn objects into display surfaces for 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional visualizations. Building spaces, complex industrial landscapes serve as public canvases, projection mapping is growing as a form of urban art across the world it can be utilized in cities like addis to project artistic work throughout the city, providing temporary canvases for a transforming urban setting.
I could not find a specific example within Africa, but this is one of my favorite projection mapping projects done in Prague.
Digital art can additional foster a growing relationship between artist, designer, scientist and technologist. Through the increase of data gathering technologies, artists can now better offer technological models and simulation that give information to citizens about their cities.
A great example of this is a recent project conducted by Ling Tan, Fakugesi Digital Art Resident, who engaged with the residents of the citizens of Johannesburg through her sensory project and use of artistic mapping of information through active participation.
Ling Tan invited residents of Johannesburg to design wearable devices that would be used to collect data around issues of safety. Wearable sensors collected data that measured whether the user felt unsafe through jewerly. The resulting data was presented through a digital map that tracked participants feelings towards their cities. (Listen to interview with Ling Tan for more about the entire project)
This participatory project between is a great example of the collaboration between the artist, technologist, urban scientists and residents utilized digital art as a form of artistic mapping of information within an urban setting strengthening the relationship between information spaces and urban spaces.
Notable mentions of digital art in the african urban environment.
Please also feel free to share examples we would love to feature them.
Short fiction stories that offer predictions of what Lagos would look like in the year 2060.
The science fiction collection Lagos 2060 captures some of those concerns. Published in 2013, it speculates about what it will be like to live in Lagos 100 years after Nigeria gained independence from the UK. But Lagos 2060 is only one example in a growing trend where the creative industries engage common fears and hopes about the future and articulate these through fiction (literature, movies, animation). Far more than aesthetic indulgence, these renditions are a calibration of the changes deemed necessary in today’s political, technical and cultural infrastructure.
These thoughts frame the iMagineering Lagos team’s presentation at FutureFest 2015 (14th – 15th March) in London, organized by Nesta and supported by British Council.
Emekah Ogboh and Lagos Soundscape
Nigerian digital artist, Emeka Ogboh, utilizes digital recording devices to capture the soundscapes of the vibrant urban environment of Lagos. His projects focuses on the growing urbanization of his this city, he also hosts an online live sound streaming of Lagos Soundscapes.
In conclusion digital art has an important role in the African urban environment as artists utilize innovation to craft artworks that create new ways for us to connect with our cities. Digital art can give us the opportunity to ponder the role of architecture and design to the unhappiness and dissent in African urban life. It can reveal and address deep-seated sociopolitical and economic issues by allowing us to more easily engage with the urban environment and its population.