Project Overview
(Photo CC BY-NC Ker Thiossane)

Digital Imaginaries

Project Intro
Articulating digital technologies and Africa together is an opportunity to reevaluate the
dominant imaginaries that shape contemporary digital practices. That at least is our starting
premise. To put it to the test, we invite artists and writers to Dakar, Johannesburg and
Karlsruhe. The resulting works expose, disrupt, hack or subvert dominant digital imaginaries
to propose alternative configurations of the digital.

Contemporary understandings of the social, the body, of self, politics, otherness and of truth
are unthinkable apart from digital technologies. The digitalisation of our most inward, and
most expensive practices, however, is not a question of technology alone. How digital
technologies affect who we are, what we do, and how we relate is not inherent in the
technologies. We speak of “digital imaginaries” to remind us that digital technologies are not
self-evident, universal or just technical but are configured in a diffuse and historically
contingent field. A field of technological imaginaries that is constituted by our collective
struggles and dreams as much as our infrastructures and interfaces. A field that, for all that is
new in digital practices, still echoes the old refrain of techno-scientific progress.

The spectre of a monolithic Africa that, leapfrogging and rising as it will, is never quite
catching up with the Global North has not gone away. There are still large parts of the
population across Africa without internet access. Sure enough, access is rapidly increasing.
The value derived from the expansion of digital practice, however, is still largely extracted in
the valley and other such mythical sites in the Global North. Yet, digital infrastructure projects
increasingly link African sites directly with Chinese and Indian ones. Bypassing the networks
of the Global North, they demonstrate that the violent colonial European origin myth of
technology can no longer be sustained. It is abundantly clear now, that no site is in control of
the technological field. What is less clear, is which possibilities this multiplication of centres
opens for those concerned with alternative configurations of digital practice?

Large-scale Indian-African trials with digital medical care, biometric population registration or
drone flight, or the sophisticated digital profiling and targeting of voters with manipulative
videos during the 2015 Nigerian election hardly provide resources for imagining more
desirable digital futures. According to Joseph Tonda, they are better understood as evidence
of a screen-mediated postcolonial imperialism: evidence that Africa is subjected to “the same
liberal techno-capitalist economic regime as the rest of the world.” The digitalisation of Africa,
in his line of thought, perpetuates the ghosting of non-western technological histories and
realities (ref Tegan). Africa’s digitalisation, here, is understood as part of an expansive, liberal,
techno-capitalist project. A project that, by perpetuating imaginaries of techno-scientific
progress, suppressing non-western imaginaries and configurations of technology. We wish to
emphasize that the South and the North cannot be mapped onto the southern hemisphere or
Europe and Northern America. Instead, South and North, should be understood as formations
that are distributed around the globe.

Dakar: Non-Aligned Utopias
If these acts of suppression are impoverishing digital imaginaries, we should be able to
recover resources for alternative configurations of the digital by paying attention to nonwestern
digital practices, whether they emerge in Africa or elsewhere. Thus at least, is the
utopian premise of digital non-alignment (Ref Oulimata). A premise that energises
experiments with alternative forms of digital production and local digital cultures. It is to this
energy and the initiatives and experiments that nurture it that the first chapter of the Digital
Imaginaries project in Dakar is dedicated. Our partner in Dakar, the digital arts Afropixel
festival is run by the independent art space Kër Thiosanne that has pioneered digital arts in
francophone Africa. Kër’s way of drawing international and global southern art circuits
together with digital makers and neighbourhood initiatives can be understood as an ongoing
experiment in digital non-alignment, and the search for digital practice proper to Senegal.
Beyond Kër, the city of Dakar too gives vitality to the proposition of non-alignment. Senghor’s
conviction, that cultural productions are central to the possibility of non-aligned Senegalese
positionalities is lively here. So, is his proposition that African positionalities are important to
the reconfiguration of richer universals. Afropixel #6, Digital Imaginaries: Non-Aligned Utopias
revisits the old struggle for non-aligned African positionalities under the conditions of
contemporary digital practices.

The festival will include public debates on non-alignment and digital production in Senegal,
artist residencies by François Knotze, Marcus Neustetter and Tabita Razaire, workshops on
typography and digital production, bicycle-powered projectors and the construction of the
space station, a pan-African digital production platform designed by DK Ossey and Yasmine

Johannesburg: Premonition
The promise of utopia is heightened by the always-implicit fear, that things might go terribly
wrong. In Johannesburg this tension between great potential and disaster is palpable. It is
manifest in the tension between urban confidence and pervasive fears. The screen-mediated
cosmopolitanism of the city is abuzz with nervous energy, and so are the high voltage fences,
and more subtle digital regimes of control and anticipation such as neighbourhood WhatsApp
watch. It is this digitally mediated ambivalent sentiment of premonition that we invite artists
and writers to address in their encounters with this elusive metropolis.

We are interested in premonition because it captures a sentiment of Johannesburg’s tense,
digitally mediated urbanity. We are also interested in premonition as a mode of knowing the
future that might allow us to draw connections between non-western forms of knowledge and
new digital regimes. Large-scale climate models and the algorithms that influence credit
ratings, insurance policies and social media feeds shift how uncertain futures are anticipated.
It is a shift from statistical probability to the algorithmic approximation of innumerable,
interdependent variables. This shift from modernist forecasting to artificial intelligence (AI) is a
major rift in technological imaginaries because it blurs the division between mathematical and
other forms of prediction. It collapses mathematics into divination.

The extensive African archive of the Wits Art Museum and its downtown location make it a
good place for thinking about alternative computational imaginaries in the contemporary city.
Doing so in partnership with the Fak’ugesi Festival is to relate to the cultures and initiatives of
African digital innovation.

Karlsruhe: Situating Digital Imaginaries
East, West, South and North do not refer to parts of the globe but to imaginaries that are in
global circulation. The third chapter of “Digital Imaginaries” in Karlsruhe takes seriously that
African positionalities contribute to universals that are legible around the world. Situating the
works that emerged in response to Dakar and Johannesburg in Karlsruhe, is to show that
they matter in a provincial German town. Not as evidence of otherness, but because here too
the questions they raise about possible alternative configurations of the digital are relevant.

Digital Imaginaries Dates

Afropixel: Non-Aligned Utopias | Dakar
Afropixel workshops & residencies 15 Feb – 12 May 2018
Afropixel festival 1-12 May 2018

Wits Art Museum & Fak’ugesi: Premonition | Johannesburg
WAM Exhibition 24 July – 23 September 2018
Fak’ugesi Festival 31. august – 9 september

ZKM: Situating Digital Imaginaries | Karlsruhe
ZKM Exhibition 31 October 2018 – February 2019

Following the three events in Dakar, Johannesburg and Karlsruhe we will publish a joined
publication, in which we will establish tentative and partial connections between the three
sites. The peer-reviewed, edited collection will be available in print and for free online in June

The Digital Imaginaries project is a collaboration between the independent art space Ker
Thiosanne and the Afropixel festival for digital and social innovation in Dakar, the Wits Art
Museum and the Fak’ugesi African digital innovation festival in Johannesburg and the
Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe.

The project is funded by the TURN fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation as well
as the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit, Pro Helvetia, Point Sud, La
Francophonie, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Arts Collaboratory and the Institute Français.

Project Team
Scientific adviser and project initiator: Richard Rottenburg.
Project curators: Julien McHardy, Oulimata Gueye.
Afropixel artistic director: Marion Louisgrand Sylla.
Afropixel curators: Oulimata Gaye, Daniel Sciboz, Julien McHardy.
Afropixel Producers: Martha Cisse, Marion Aïdara.
Fak’ugesi artistic director : Tegan Bristow.
Wits Art Museum, curators: Fiona Rankin-Smith, Tegan Bristow, Julien McHardy.
ZKM curators: Philipp Ziegler, Oulimata Gueye, Julien McHardy.
Participating artists: Younes Baba Ali, Tegan Bristow, Marcus Neustetter, François.
Knoetze, Tabita Rezaire, Kombo Chapfka, DK Osseo-Asare, Yasmine Abbas.