8 years ago I begun African digital art. As far as the internet is concerned it was a millennium ago. ADA anniversaries are typically celebratory, but not this year. As a ‘veteran’ in the pursuit of conquering the digital space, I am confronted by my mistakes. Usually we generalize hardships with bite size quotes on failure and mistakes. Indulge me in this reflective and marose mood, in the spirit of the wiz, you get to see the woman operating the machine.
Mistake 1. Thinking I was alone.
I bought the domain, learned how to hack a theme on wordpress, designed a site and hit publish. From here, right in the beginning, I set the tone on how I thought that this had to be done. If I had a bug to fix, shoot a promo video or interview an artist, it was up to me. It was not hubris that made me do it, but it was the do-it-yourself method of conducting things that led me to be proficient at just about anything.
“The lone wolf persona, although alluring, is also inaccurate”
The digital life did not help my solitary condition. You become delusional, believing you are alone in your bedroom and no one is really reading this, coupled with the biggest “emperor with no clothes on syndrome”, you wait for the moment when you will be exposed as a fraud. Social media and the advancement of digital media platforms have trained us to believe that we can be it all; social media strategist, technical director, accountant and executive. I always joke that linkedin is the home to Founders and Chief Executive Officers, no one is part of a team, they are the team.
In the past 8 years, I have to come to believe, to my own disservice, that no one cares or will work as hard as me at African Digital Art. That is absolutely no true! With so much growth, I have reached the point that in order to survive, I have to abandon my solitary confinement.
The lone wolf persona, although alluring, is also inaccurate, I am surrounded by supporters, subscribers, contributors, and partners. Thank you seems like something so inadequate to say right now, but I am grateful always.
Mistake 2: Never giving myself credit.
There was a point in time where the joke was no longer funny, “ the only person who knows about ADA is my mom”. Google analytics was there to disprove the myth, as the numbers grew steadily. I found myself being asked to speak around the world. I was considered a ‘thought-leader”, invited as an expert, curator and hired onto big projects.
Every single time, I did my best to discredit myself. I dismissed compliments, made funny jokes and underplayed the hours of pain and resources it took to build this platform.
“We changed the perception of African visual culture online.”
African Digital Art became a leading source for championing art and technology culture in Africa. We changed the perception of African visual culture online. If you google African typefaces, photography, animation, artists, you will find something I posted.
Never giving myself credit is not a self-deprecating exercise it is taking what ADA has done for granted. I have taken for granted the thousands of artists and projects we showcased, the initiatives, exhibitions and the light we shed to an almost invisible field. The unwillingness to take a position, and to take credit has led me not to take responsibility that has undermined the vision that I have fought years to make come true. This is the end of that.
Mistake 3: Never Asking.
My mom always says, “you have not, because you ask not.” Boy have those words been prophetic. I see Kanye on twitter, asking Mark Zuckerberg for millions and I see my mistake.
For some reason I thought asking for help or asking for opportunities was a sign of weakness.
“you have not, because you ask not.”
Then there was this belief I held that the more people I asked to do things for ADA the more I would be indebted to them in a way that I could not repay. The sense of responsibility weighed on me. I defaulted to give freely, rather than to ask with intent. Now I cannot help but to think of how much this platform would have gotten if I just asked. There is a growing list of things I should ask for; and I share with you so that you can have the opportunity to show me that this isn’t so scary; I am asking for;
- Artists to give back to this platform. ADA has exposed over 1500 new artists in the past 8 years. I am asking for artists to promote this space, promote the site by designing banners, stickers, and artwork. Spread the word on their portfolios and social media sites through a link.
- I am also asking for artists who would be willing to create tutorials for other burgeoning artists.
- I am asking for content providers not to pull content from ADA without giving credit.
- I am asking for contributors, partners, patrons to work with ADA to creative initiative that will help foster growth in the art and technology sector.
- I am asking for you to reach out to me and let me know how this platform can grow.
Mistake 4: Falling for the Hype.
The black African female in technology is a rare breed. A natural phenomenon she roves through the silicon savannah’s, she codes, designs and tweets. It is easy to fall for the hype when you are seen this way, given opportunities because of the fact that you are considered scarce. In the very early stages of ADA I was splashed all over the press, and I started to fall for the hype. Little did I know that I was being given the limelight prematurely. I confused notoriety for substance and became distracted.
Unfortunately coming from Africa you have a specific set of conditions that you have to overcome. First of all you cannot escape from being seen as African. Regardless of what you do you won’t be seen as an artist, but as an African artist. If you are a photographer from Cameroon, you are an African photographer. I was well aware of this when I started ADA and I made the decision to embrace it taking the brand AFRICA upon myself.
“Always be critical about how your African identity is used.”
This is extremely problematic on so many levels, including the fact that I am not quite sure what the definition of Africa is. By Africa do we mean Africa, the continent, culture, people who identify as African. Generalizing the most diverse place on earth creates a whole set of problems. I acknowledge the irony of all this coming from someone who labels themselves @digitalafrican and whose site is called AFRICAN digital art, not digital art.
Tagging yourself as African also invites an admissible level of mediocrity. It would be so easy for me to ease on by as just being African. Because that translates to donor money and a certain level of attention. But that is not an option for me or this platform.
All of this is to say, that as an African creative, do not buy into the hype, donor funds and press. Rather strive to be excellent. Always be critical about how your African identity is used.
Mistake 5 – Being distracted.
I have excuses just like anyone else. Excuses are not merely verbal, they appear in our actions as well. Self motivation is critical, but it is a constant work in progress. Life and its challenges as well as its pleasures often stand in the way of a task. Creating a system is an effective way of dealing with this. However, a system does not absolve you of the effort and discipline required. One of the more annoying aspects of this endeavor is being reminded that it is in fact work. Like any other professional I had to develop the discipline to sustain my life’s work. This negotiation has led me to be distracted on projects, partnerships, and relationships I had no business getting involved with. Distraction is seductive, a respite in the work it takes to deal with the reality of crafting your own space.
“Self motivation is critical, but it is a constant work in progress.”
Mistake 6- Underestimating My impact on the future.
I’ll be the first to admit that the growth of this platform has been overwhelming. In the past I was awkwardly comfortable with the idea that nobody was seeing any of this. As this enterprise grew I could no longer hide. The truth is that I can no longer hide. My foray into the public eye has been and will more than likely continue to be a challenge. A challenge that I will more than likely have to confront publically. The truth is, both fortunately and terrifyingly, the challenges never cease. I do not know what the future holds, but that is not always a bad thing. I urge all of you to fail forward and make your own mistakes. Those who achieve often have the courage to fail. May your mistakes be as big or even bigger than my own.