The Importance of Digital Platforms in Disseminating and Preserving Culture

Africa has remained a dark continent for a long period of time in terms of its visibility on a global scale. Our narratives have not been afforded recognition on the same tier as Western art and with the new hype around ‘African Art’ we are called to re-asses and monitor the dialogue around our own artistic production. Educational resources in South Africa and on the continent have allowed a Euro-centric discourse to prevail, but in the past decade things have slowly started to shift, and academic ambassadors in the diaspora have slowly and consistently been making room for our cultural output to penetrate and assemble a broader discourse.

Art Fairs and Biennales similarly provide opportunities for Art from our continent to act out a narrative, operating within a global environment amongst work from all over the world. Here, however, each piece must learn its place as part of something whole; it does not stand alone in its attempts to communicate. It is from this directory that we can begin to understand our own stories. They are never isolated from a grand narrative and we must not focus on the separation of ourselves as African but to create solidarity amongst ourselves as Africans.

Society cannot progress if we fail to understand our own culture. We must take the hotly contested hype labelled ‘African art’ and see it as an opportunity not to retaliate against a singular definition but to fully understand the complexities of the cultural landscape in which we operate, rather than allowing it to place restrictions on what we can achieve.

It must be acknowledged that in Africa we are subject to limited infrastructures across the continent that inhibit social progress within our own spaces (which goes some way to explain the ever-increasing number of artists working in the diaspora), as is the case in most third-world countries. Raphael Chikukwa (National Gallery of Zimbabwe) points out that the majority of the cultural institutions on the continent are under-funded and under-resourced. This statement serves to emphasize the importance of utilizing digital platforms to the highest degree and wherever possible, in order to create cultural archives and enable access to information beyond these physical limitations.

We have witnessed a major shift since the advent of smartphones as people are able to record and construct their own narratives - a major turning point for individualism and reclaiming ownership over our own identities. The camera entered Africa as a tool to exoticize, but now we are able to emerge from the umbra of the lens to construct our own identities and sphere of influence. Marcia Kure (artist, Bloom Art, Nigeria) shared that she hoped her work at the Cape Town Art Fair this year would relay the message that “we can all have a conversation, equally… we can all be together in a conversation” – and the creation of digital content certainly promotes this.

In the case of contemporary artistic practice in Africa, we must make every effort to sincerely record and archive artists and art initiatives across the continent. Video content is a prevalent resource for younger generations to draw from; an efficient solution to the lack of educational material currently available to students, writers, and the general public (where internet access is available). By forging connections with artists on our continent and creating spaces for conversation, we can begin recording sincere, authentic descriptions of cultural production – without the interference of a contested Western presence.  

Art reflects the times in which we live and mirrors our social context. We live a digital age and this is how we will learn our history, but also the means by which we will access and record the culture of our present. Just as art is able to transcend linguistic boundaries, digital media functions to transcend physical ones. Where artists create cultural objects imbued with meaning, digital media expands the legacy of such objects, and Museums contextualize them to preserve and safeguard these legacies.

Michaela Limberis