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Interview with African Digital Art

We managed to catch the founder of ADA, Jepchumba, and asked her a couple of questions about online publishing, the state of creativity in Africa and a few other things that we reckon are relevant. Read through and drop us a comment with your thoughts on African Digital Art. Also remember, we’re always looking for interviews with creative people.

Can you tell us a bit more about ADA, what is it all about? The “digital” in your name might limit you a bit, why did you make that decision?

Well African Digital Art is simple, it is an online creative spaces for digital media artists, enthusiasts and professionals. ADA is focused on bringing much needed attention to the African creative industry. The emphasis on digital is quite unique and important for us. When I begun ADA I wanted it to focus on projects that involved some sort of digital technology. When most people think of African art they have the habit of limiting it outside of a contemporary framework. What comes to mind are those african masks, crafts and traditional ancient paintings that we have all seen and encountered coming from Africa. ADA is a tangible example that Africa is very much in the present and not lost somewhere in the past. Africa is also experiencing and utilizing technology in interesting and unique ways.

Why did you decide to start ADA, and how long has it been going for?

ADA really grew out of my Masters in Digital Media. While I was in London, taking my graduate course, I knew I wanted to do a digital project that reflected my background from Africa. At that time there was really no space dedicated to African digital media on a larger scale. In fact many people didn’t know it existed. ADA at first was for me more than anyone else, a place that I could catalog all the projects and artists that inspired me as an artist. I soon found that ADA resonated with a lot of other people and became a source of inspiration not just for up and coming artists but for Africans from the continent and from the diaspora.

How do you get so much content on a daily basis? Is it submissions based or do you have to search for it?

We do receive submissions, many artists will reach out to us on a daily basis. We also have an online community, where we interact with artists. A lot of the content also comes from me just being obsessed and inspired by what is going on in the creative community, I try to stay plugged in with as many people as possible (you can always find me on twitter, @digitalafrican), people like 10and5 who also showcase incredible work.

What does your team look like who contribute and help make ADA what it is?

This is actually one of the aspects that I am most proud of and encouraged by, for a long time I was sort of running the show by myself, it was exhausting and time consuming. Luckily ADA resonated with the right sort of people who have taken a step and made ADA their baby as well.  I think the best thing that ever happened to ADA is Barbara Muriuingi, she is a motion graphic artists with a keen eye. She is forthcoming, passionate and honest, which I love the most. Barbara has added a lot more umpph to ADA, she has an incredible passion to see projects coming from Africa that can rival and surpass international digital media standards. We also have contributors and interns that submit information, posts and sources, they are our true powerhouse. The ADA team also includes all of you. ADA is very much a collective, and we would love to see other parts of africa represented. If you are interested on joining the bandwagon shoot us an email atteam@africandigitalart.com

Being an Africa-wide site, where do you operate from, and how does that impact on your connections in the industry?

Right now ADA is operational in the African diaspora and in Africa, we have contributors and partners within local African communities throughout Africa, mainly in Eastern and Southern Africa. We are also hoping to tap into the french speaking part of Africa as well. We are trying to broaden our scope and ensure that local design communities are participating and getting projects up and running.

I recently spent a few months back home in Kenya, with local artists, designers, creatives, really assessing the need and impact of ADA, I found out that the creative community is all over the place, there are large discrepancies between skill level, access to technology and awareness. This led me to really shift the focus from having ADA be a mere reflection of digital projects but to take a more active approach in creative communities throughout africa through initiatives, clinics and projects.

What is your biggest challenge as an online publisher?

I would say the biggest challenge would be the fact that online publishing is fairly new ground for some parts of Africa. As you are well aware there are large divisions between access to technology and the internet in Africa. So many people are fairly new to the whole online space.  When it comes to creative projects, they would much rather interact with a magazine or a book, they can touch and feel.

I also worry about how long their pages are gonna load with all those images and video using slow internet access. I was made very much aware of this when I would connect to the internet back home. These are just some practical and basic things you have to keep in mind when dealing with an african online demographic. I would add by saying that many artists in Africa are also new to expressing themselves online, so we also have to jump over this hurdle by encouraging them to experience art and creative projects online.

What would you change about the site right now if you could?

aaah. I am afraid this question will reveal my neurosis. I am an addict at making things better. So you will always experience changes at ADA, as we strive to be a better platform.  I love where it is at the moment. The site has become more visual and easier to navigate. It is designed for the creative who tends to have a short attention span, like me. One of the things that we are currently developing is making the social media component of our site, the community, more accessible and user friendly. The community is actually one of the major things that is in development at the moment, I am interested in exploring new ways of creating a social media platform specifically designed for an African audience, and easily available through mobile devices. If this is something that is of interest to you shoot us an email team@africandigitalart.com

You guys also seem to have quite a lot of cool real-world extensions and projects, can you tell us a bit about them?

Yes we recently announced that ADA will be taking part in several initiatives. This is in response to the fact that many African creatives are starting from absolute scratch and need tangible ways to encourage them. Every month or two, we shall be launching a series of projects, experiments and clinics that will encourage African digital artist to do what they do best, which is get creative.

The first initiative we released is entitled The Genesis. It is an open call for submission that showcase the birth and execution of ideas. We are interested in seeing the progression of your digital projects.  It is a sort of mini case study exercise. We are looking for your submissions, so please enter.  We are also partnering up with the Wits school of arts, digital arts program, for a series of digital art lectures. Every month there will be available online a lecture held by an african digital artist to stimulate dialogue between artists. The main focus for these projects is that there needs to be more of a spirit of collaboration within our community. I have found the most exceptional projects are done when we join forces.

It seems the creative showcase space is getting quite crowded – there are numerous blogs that do the same thing. What do you think of the competition?

Crowded! That is absolutely AWESOME! I get so excited whenever I see another blog popping up, because this space was just not there a few years ago. In fact no one would have never put the word “Africa” and “digital” together, let alone “African digital art”. The fact that there are more blogs out there is a testament of the work ADA is doing, which is bringing much needed exposure to the digital media industry! I have never seen the presence of other creative type blogs as a competition, it has only encouraged me to keep doing what I am doing but do it better and better every time.

What is most exciting for you in the African creative industry at the moment? Who should we look out for or who will make waves in the next couple of months?

Wow, that is a tough question. This is really hard to say because Africa keeps on surprising us.  I would add that the best thing that happened to the creative community was the world cup, it has brought out a lot of hidden artists that would otherwise not have been seen in an international scope. I would encourage you to keep your eye on ADA because we are constantly showcasing work and artists that surpass our expectations.

By being exposed to all this creativity from Africa, you can get a pretty good idea of which countries are leading the field in creativity. Are there places that you  receive little or no work from, and why do you think that is?

There is a lot of unchartered territory, when it comes to exposure. If you look at where most of our projects and traffic comes from within Africa, it is usually the places and spaces that have access to the internet or ICT’s.  If you have ever looked at a map of where the internet is widely used in Africa those are the spaces we get most of our projects from. I would say the countries within the central part of continent are the hardest to reach.  I have yet to receive a project or see a project from Central African Republic, to be fair, I have yet to meet someone from that country either. We are just not yet there in terms of access to technology, but Africa has one major advantage which is mobile web technology. We have the ability to break new ground, I would love to see what african creatives can do with mobile devices. We have already influenced how the rest of the world interact with their phones, this impact also extends to African digital art.

Where are the creative hubs in Africa at the moment? Are certain countries leading the field or is it city based (e.g. we saw Cape Town and not South Africa making a bid for Creative Capital).

I would say the spaces that are major creative hubs would be South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.  South Africa and Egypt have long dominated the creative industry but is encouraging to see other regions gain new ground. Nigeria is an interesting place, the Nollywood industry has become a factory of pumping out films and digital projects, however I would argue that their case is more quantity than quality. Since this creative industry is fairly new you see large concentrations of projects within cities, Cape Town being one of them. Cape Town is actually one of the most featured cities when it comes to digital projects so far, but this will not remain the case since new and upcoming cities are pushing towards digital technology.

I think the major advantage that Cape Town has is that they have figured out how to make Digital media a profitable and sustainable business, they have established a creative economy. I hope to see this recreated in other parts of Africa.

How do you think Africa stacks up to Europe or America as a design and creative destination? South America has also been seen as an emerging design powerhouse, what do you think of that?

There is absolutely no reason why Africa should not compete at a global level. Africa has a unique perspective to offer, I find that many European and American projects are stale, reproduced and regurgitated.  South America, especially Brazil, has burst onto the seen with incredible motion graphic projects. We are just as able to go head to head with some of the big boys! We are breaking new ground which you can argue is our major advantage because there  are new expressions and art forms and mediums yet to be discover. As more emphasis is placed in global interaction, Africa will certainly rise to the challenge as long as we push against our boundaries and limitations. I think the global design community is hungry for the African perspective.

African Digital Art is one of our favourite sites showcasing great talent within the African continent. The site regularly features great design, and it’s inspiring for us here at Between 10 and 5 to see what the rest of Africa is up to – we won’t lie and will admit to having a peek over there sometimes to see what’s hot!

Can you tell us a bit more about ADA, what is it all about? The “digital” in your name might limit you a bit, why did you make that decision?

Well African Digital Art, is simple an online creative spaces for digital media artists, enthuisiasts and professionals. ADA is focused on bringing much needed attention to the African creative industry. The emphasis on digital is quite unique and important for us. When I begun ADA i wanted it to focus on projects that involved some sort of digital technology. When most people think of African art they have the habit of limiting it outside of a contemporary framework. What comes to mind are those african masks, crafts and traditional ancient paintings that we have all seen and encountered coming from Africa. ADA is a tangible example that Africa is very much in the present and not lost somewhere in the past, Africa is also experiencing and utilizing technology in interesting and unique ways.



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