Digital House on a Digital Earth
Times are hectic in the peaceful courtyard of Kër Thiossane, Villa for Art and Multimedia in Dakar, a hub for digital creation in Africa. Co-founder Marion Louisgrand Sylla is preparing the Afropixel festival, where artists from China and Africa come together in exploratory sessions around digital art, and how belief systems and foundational myths shape technology.
Kër Thiossane opened its doors in 2002, in Dakar’s Sicap district. This used to be a
vibrant and diverse community, known for its cultural institutions. In 2002, the area had deteriorated. Founders Marion Louisgrand Sylla and Francois Sylla wanted to create a digital public space, offer opportunities for artists to explore new mediums, and contribute to social change.
“It was a very different time compared to now, when everyone has a smart phone. Internet cafés were opening up all over Dakar. We wanted to encourage critical thinking, and offer digital activities beyond consumption.”
Today, Kër Thiossane is a cultural home for artistic and civic imagination, dedicated to social and artistic innovation. A laboratory based on artistic experimentation, free culture and shared knowledge.”
“A lot of our work has been focused on the commons, on open sharing and free access to resources and tools. After 2011, we formalized into a “School of the Commons”, highlighting the concept of an everyday ‘InCommon’ facility. We encouraged the community to reclaim and explore their city, through a creative approach, making it more welcoming and secure.
The School of Common’s has brought about many innovations, including a Garden of Resistance, built in cooperation with Sicap residents. The garden is a sanctuary for all citizens, but also an educational area, dedicated to children and women. Another popular resource is the Fablab, Defko Ak Niiep (Wolof for “Do it with others”), offering free access to software and CNC machines including 3D-printers, a laser cutter and microcontrollers.
“We organize training workshops free of charge, and also have a mobile Fablab.
We are open to all, and reach 7-year-olds as well as fashion designers, craftsmen, artists and computer scientists.”
Kër Thiossane’s well-known Afropixel Festival is usually held in connection to the Dakar Art Biennale. However, in 2019, Afropixel will launch a special edition together with Digital Earth, a six-month fellowship for artists and designers based in Africa or Asia, who want to investigate the current technological reality. It ends in Dakar, during a weekend packed with seminars and activities looking into various forms of cosmotechnics, such as technological thought in Daoism in China, to algorithms in beadwork and fractals on the African continent.
«We are open to all, 7-year-olds as well as fashion designers.»
Digital earth wants to challenge the way technology is usually presented, as universal, while in reality it is the product of a very speciﬁc cultural imagination. To consider Western technology as universal, they claim, allows for colonization and delegitimization of other technological cultures. Stories and myths around the birth of technics are the very basis from which any technological development starts. Chinese philosopher Yuk Hui, who attends the festival, calls it “cosmotechnics”.
“The “dakarois” (inhabitants of Dakar), who are increasingly connected, will be able to discover digital arts through discussions, exhibitions, concerts and performances by artists, designers, thinkers and scientists.”