Jepchuma is the founder and creative director of African Digital Art – a platform where artists and creatives from all over Africa come together to share and connect in a creative online space. With a background in digital art, web design and audio/visual production, Jepchumba brings an extensive knowledge to issues of digital development in Africa. Her passion for Africa, art and digital media is the driving force of her work and Heavy Chef had the opportunity to pick her brain on digital creativity in Africa.
Jepchumba, can you tell us about African Digital Art?
African Digital Art is an online collective, a creative space, where digital artists, enthusiasts and professionals can seek inspiration, showcase their artistry and connect with emerging artists.
For the past two years the African Digital Art Network has presented unparalleled ideas, individualistic works and insightful designer solutions by the African creative community. It has become a platform for innovation and inspiration with a sophisticated blend of fresh talent and successful designers and artists.
The focus on digital is quite unique and important to us. We are not exclusive to digital art expressions but we are mainly interested in how artists use technology as a medium for their work. We believe that African digital art has a way of “Pushing Digital Boundaries” by enabling artists and creative professionals to come up with innovative solutions for their everyday lives. The African Digital Art Network is dedicated to fostering the growing technology-driven creative community that still remains in its infancy in Africa.
How is digital contributing to the growth of the artistic community in Africa?
The exposure of digital content and technology has led a revolution in Africa especially when it comes to representation. Most of the time we are bombarded with negative representations of Africa by the media, portraying the ‘dark continent’ plagued with strife, disease and poverty. What is most startling is our general lack of knowledge about each others’ history, culture and modern conditions. Digital content has given us the opportunity not only to present new realities but give others an opportunity to share their experiences and speak about their lives in a modern context.
African Digital Art has become a catalogue of how Africa has had a sort of awakening and transformation through creative expressions by using digital technology. We have represented about 85% of every country in Africa through artists, projects, and exhibitions. By exposing others to this new digital media arena, we have inspired many artists and digital media enthusiasts to begin expressing new ideas and ways of thinking.
The growth of mobile technology in Africa has sky-rocketed. Is this changing the way people interact and share in the online space?
Of course it does. There is a lot to be said about the impact of mobile technology in Africa, however little has been discussed in terms of how mobile technology is influencing Africans creatively. I am curious to see if Africa will be on the cusp of new ways of understanding User Experience and User Interface design because our exposure to technology is unique to the west. In Africa, most people are introduced to the web through their phones and will most unlikely ever own or have access to a personal computer, whilst in the West most users are introduced to the personal computer then migrate to the mobile space. If you think about it, this offer a unique playing ground when it comes to new ways and forms of design and experimentation with User Experience, a subject I am keen on and currently researching.
I’m sure you’ve heard that Cape Town has recently been awarded the title of World Design Capital for 2014. What are your thoughts on using design as a tool for transformation in African cities?
I was thrilled when the announcement was made, however let’s be honest – creatively Cape Town is completely different from the rest of Africa. Cape Town is a city that is fortunate to be saturated by global creative talent and has an established network of talented designers and digital artists. Whereas in other parts of Africa, digital media and design education is rare.
When it comes to design in Africa we have such a long way to go. I spoke on this on a podcast – Digital Continent, which you can listen to here.
You have heard the saying form over function when it comes to design, well in Africa there is just FUNCTION. If it works that is about it. There is little education about design and how it influences not only innovation but economies for cities as well. We conducted a survey in the beginning of this year amongst African creatives and the number one constraint they said they faced in their profession was lack of User Education. General lack of design education trumped lack of resources, low bandwidth, lack of equipment as their number one hurdle. I would argue that the education system in Africa is designed to create doctors, lawyers and engineers and not too many artists. There are just not enough art and design programs in Africa.
With that said, we have yet to see enough examples of how design can function as a transformative tool in the rest of Africa and I am interested to see if Cape Town with its new found title will address these key issues that are a reality in most African cities.
‘The Digital Divide’ is often used when looking at Africa and the internet. How are platforms such as African Digital Art redefining ideas of technology and inclusion/exclusion in Africa?
As I mentioned earlier, African Digital Art is giving an opportunity to visually redefine what it means to be African. African Digital Art is also inspiring a younger generation to consider a new field of technology that might have not necessarily been offered to them.
Digital Art and media has the ability to transcend barriers. It is a powerful tool for communication. Digital art is a form of ingenuity that often fosters innovation. Through creative exercise new solutions are brought to light which often help empower individuals to improve their communities. In terms of development, digital media can be a powerful weapon to motivate, inspire and direct individuals towards change and bridge the gap.
How do you feel digital technology is assisting the development of emerging African markets?
A viable creative economy in Africa is an active form of community engagement and an essential component for innovation. So when it comes to emerging African markets in technology I believe that digital media will be an important component for economic development.
We have already seen the rise of entertainment technology in Africa with the growth of Nollywood and the motion graphics and special effects domination South Africa has right now with global award winning studios like Shy the Sun and Am I collective. We are seeing major motion picture releases from Africa with films such as Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, Congo’s first feature film in 25 years, Viva Riva, and award winning short films such as Pumzi.
Digital Media is changing the modern African context. Africans are using their computer to communicate new ideas, design their cities, their homes , their experiences and express themselves.
And finally, what is your current passion project? What are you most excited about?
Well there are a few things that I am working on. African Digital Art remains my passion project and I am currently exploring new ways to provide offline spaces for digital creatives to collaborate. Looking into the future ADA hopes to open up labs where artists can work, share projects and expose themselves to new mediums.
I am also in the midst of conducting research on design and User Experience in Africa. I am curious about the impact and influence the mobile web will have on design and I will be working on UI and UX design in Africa for the next year or so.
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