CAAS Conference 2013 – Panel “‘An aesthetic of opening and encounter’: African Digital Media Identities”

In the frame of the CAAS Conference 2013, Carleton University (May 1-3, 2013):

Panel “‘An aesthetic of opening and encounter’: African Digital Media Identities”

As a transnational space, Africa is still mired in what may be described as the “digital divide” where access to information and communication technology (ICT) still lags behind many developing and developed countries (Fuchs and Horak 2008). Despite the clear difficulties of going digital in a context where serious life needs are not fulfilled, Africans are nevertheless actively contributing to digital discourses. Nominally western in origin, digital technologies are being adapted to serve African local needs in a way that “renews the past, refiguring it as a contingent ‘in-between’ space, that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present” (Bhabha 2004). From early western-African based initiatives such as DakarWeb to the work of current African digital artists, digital technologies are creating transnational spaces and aesthetics that are especially fruitful for exploring Mbembe’s notion of “an aesthetic of opening and encounter” (“Power of the False” 2002). And as Jean K. Chalaby (2005) argues, with “the emergence of new digital media,” computer-driven practices are “at the heart of the transformation of regional media cultures” in Africa and across the world.
African artists use a variety of digital and computer-based strategies to depict African histories and express evolving identities in transnational spaces. This panel will explore the role of the digital revolution in the reappropriation, recreation and depiction of African pasts and futures in cinema, photography and digital media.

« Pour ‘une esthétique de l’ouverture et de la rencontre’ : Identités africaines et médias numériques »
L’Afrique, en tant qu’espace transnational, est toujours embourbée dans ce qu’on peut appeler « le fossé numérique », ayant un accès très limité aux technologies de l’information et de la communication (TIC) comparativement à bon nombre de pays développés et en voie de développement (Fuchs et Horak, 2008). Malgré ces difficultés évidentes de prendre le train du numérique en marche, dans un contexte où bien des besoins vitaux ne sont pas satisfaits, les Africains contribuent activement aux discours numériques. D’origine occidentale, les technologies numériques sont adaptées aux besoins locaux en Afrique, d’une manière qui « renouvelle le passé et le reconfigure comme un espace ‘interstitiel’ contingent qui innove et interrompt la performance du présent » (Bhabha, 2007). De la première initiative lancée en Afrique de l’Ouest, DakarWeb, au travail des artistes numériques d’aujourd’hui, les technologies numériques créent des espaces transnationaux et une esthétique particulièrement féconde pour explorer cette notion d’« esthétique de l’ouverture et de la rencontre » chère à Mbembé (« Notes sur le pouvoir du faux », 2002). Comme l’affirme Jean K. Chalaby (2005), avec « l’apparition des nouveaux médias numériques », les pratiques
assistées par ordinateur sont « au cœur de la transformation des cultures médiatiques
régionales » en Afrique et à travers le monde.
Les artistes africains utilisent une variété de stratégies numériques et assistées par ordinateur pour raconter des histoires africaines et exprimer leurs identités en évolution dans des espaces transnationaux. Ce panel explorera le rôle de la révolution numérique dans la réappropriation, la recréation et la description des passés et des futurs africains dans le cinéma, la photographie et les médias numériques.

Olubunmi Oyinsan
TelAfric Television Inc,

Title: Orature as a Site for Civil Contestation: Film and the Decolonization of Space and Place in Tsisti Dangarembga’s Kare Kare Zvako (Mother’s Day) 2005

Abstract: In Zimbabwe, the demand for political control was conflated with a struggle for cultural emancipation, driven by the centrality of orature. This centrality persists in Zimbabwe and its influence is discernible in “new” forms of cultural expressions such as television, radio, film and digital media. It is evident that apart from the fact that traditionally women identify orature as a site for struggle, resistance groups in Zimbabwe also continue to draw on orature to challenge post independence officialdom’s attempts at confining Zimbabwean identity to suit their agenda. One approach has been through the generation of discourse as a way of drawing attention to the relevance of the oral concept of hunhu/ubuntu. The concept has been proposed as a valid philosophical approach, which represents the core ontological and
epistemological foundation of Bantu speaking people. This paper focuses on how this film uses the portrayal of the fragmented, mutilated body of a woman to draw attention to the limitations of hunhu/ubuntu by pointing out that while it might ostensibly apply to all community relations; this philosophical system does not quite focus on marital codes or gender interactions. As such, hunhu’s potential as a powerful tool for civic change remains handicapped.

Julie Crooks
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

Title: Photography in Sierra Leone in the Post-conflict era

Abstract: The 11 year civil war in Sierra Leone left the majority of its population traumatized, a fragile and unstable ecomomy and broken infrastructures. While bequeathed by and drawing inspiration from the rich photographic heritage, a new generation of photographers are also witness to and scarred by the violence that damaged these photographic traces in the aftermath of the war. Yet this generation is also firmly grounded in the digitally globalized present which provides multiple opportunities for preservation and documentation even in a country with limited electricity and personal computers. Liam Buckley observes in his work on endangered archives in Gambia, that the “desire to preserve the national heritage in these
material remains, signals the transformation of the former colony into a modern nation
and the national attainment of specific sign of being modern.” This paper offers a preliminary consideration of the photographic legacy of Sierra Leone and the ways in which contemporary photographers are taking advantage of digital technology. It also examines the project of reclaiming its photographic archives temporarily housed at Fourah Bay College in Freetown.

Érika Nimis
Département d’histoire, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Title: In Search of African History: Visual Artists and Archives’ Re-appropriation in the Digital Era

Abstract: The digital revolution has fundamentally changed our relationship to archives, by accelerating their “dusting off” and their re-appropriation, particularly, in the art world.
In a conference at the Quai Branly Museum (Paris, 2011), the cinema historian Teresa Castro emphasized that “if the figure of the artist-historian is not new, we have to admit that archives (in the broader sense) concerning the memory and the visual heritage of several African countries (…) are being increasingly investigated by artists, and that their documentary explorations, based on a precise work on sources and more or less long research experiments, produce a kind of ‘counter-history,’ or ‘alternative history’.” This paper will show how some visual artists through new digital technologies, provide new ways of reading contemporary African history, by revisiting diverse forms of archives, sources, for the greater part photographic, and which were produced during the colonial and/or independence periods.

Sheila Petty
Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Regina

Title: High-Tech “Transvergent” Identities in Nadia El Fani’s Bedwin Hacker

Contemporary African filmmakers are transforming African cinema as they move beyond the social realist aesthetic directives of Independence times to explore the struggles and triumphs of Africans living in globalized contexts. In particular, contemporary African filmmaking stresses the interrelationship between multiple histories (colonial, national and personal) as they collide with social, political and economic imperatives. For French/Tunisian activist filmmaker Nadia El Fani, film is a means to explore Tunisian history and culture and issues of identity permeate her work beginning with her first short films to her first feature film, Bedwin Hacker (2002, 103 mins), arguably the Maghreb’s first feature thriller in which a female hacker broadcasts political messages over the Internet from a remote mountain location in Tunisia.
Florence Martin has argued that El Fani’s films interrogate “identity and the past stories that have contributed to the hybridity of today’s Tunisians” (Screens and Veils, 2011, 133). Martin goes on to describe El Fani’s double culture and double nationality as contributing to a fluid identity and transvergence in her cinema where the subject is in constant becoming. This paper will explore how El Fani uses the cinema screen as a site of political pressure, resistance and debate, contributing to Tunisia’s “Revolution of Dignity,” long before “les Printemps Arabes.”

More on the Conference here:




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