Meet the continent’s up-and-coming creatives who fearlessly harness the web to tell their stories
Until October 18, Somerset House will play host to 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, a platform championing the diversity of contemporary art produced across the continent. Now in its third year, it’s a must see during Frieze week, where exhibitors hail from Morocco, Angola, Tunisia, Benin and Kenya, to name a few. In support of this important showcase, we cast a light on young African diasporan digital artists, as well as emerging digital art practitioners who are from and/or currently based in Africa. Using screen interfaces and web-based media, these young artists fearlessly evaluate and challenge notions of identity, colonialism, representation and appropriation with nuance and flair.
South African video art culture is the main concern of this Johannesburg art troop, founded in 2011 by Ravi Govender, Jamal Nxedlana and Zamani Xolo. Often name-checked as South Africa’s first ‘digital art’ artist group, CUSS have dedicated much of their practice to Video Party – an ongoing video series featuring work from international artists – mapped across non-gallery settings in South Africa (hair salons, TV stores and Internet Café’s to name a few). Pieces by Hannah Perry and Rachael Crowther have been spliced into their video features so far, and their latest work featuring musician/artist Dean Blunt was exhibited out of car trunks in Zimbabwe. Watch it here.
Isaac Kariuki’s work navigates Internet cultures and diasporic identities through stock-image aesthetics and pastel-tinged imagery. He’s a name to keep on top of not least for his digital visuals (“Skype Fashion Week” and “Weaponise The Internet” are two photo-based series that you need to check out) but for his celebration of creatives of colour and the multi-faceted nature of their presence online. Outside of his visual art endeavours, the Kenyan-born London-based artist can be found publishing quarterly zine Diaspora Drama in addition to working alongside casting don Nafisa Kaptownwala on modelling agency Lorde Inc.
Sekhukhuni once credited rap music videos and self help programmes as his main source of inspiration. Unrelated they may seem, these two reference points can be traced in his web-centric repertoire, where debates around identity and interaction are explored through video, performance and installation. The emotional stickiness of virtual exchange is central to his notable avatar piece Consciousness engine 2: absentblackfatherbot, a robot-generated project that stimulates a father/son exchange – based on his own Facebook interactions with the father he never met. A frequent collaborator with CUSS Group, the South African Visual Art grad is currently showing work as part of CO-WORKERS: Network as Artist at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris till January 2016.
Omoregie's CamGirl project took hold of the web back in 2013, a series that saw her fuse Renaissance paintings with selfie submissions from women around the world. The images used a simple cut and paste aesthetic to probe at identity and respectability politics, challenging representations of the female body on the Internet and in Fine Art. These themes are pretty consistent in the work of this London-based multimedia artist (see venus self and g-urls), who is also part of the all-girl-art-gang Bunny Collective.
Rezaire uses pixelated interfaces to sift through Cyberspace race politics, postcolonial tech cultures and marginalised web bodies. The Johannesburg-based video/new media artist is at home with glitchy GIFs and gauche graphics, interrogating the web's default whiteness and the representational consequences that it affords. As well as playing a key role in South Africa's emerging digital art scene, Rezaire collaborates with Alicia Mersy on MALAXA, a video art-collective founded in 2012.
Fusing her own photography with film/video stills and images sourced through Tumblr, Oparah fashions striking collages and graphics that mediate upon portrayals of African identity. The Brooklyn-based Nigerian artist weaves socio-cultural narratives into glitchy compositions that acknowledge complex histories with a forward-looking slant; “It’s the flux of the internet - its incompleteness - in combination with an evolving African identity that opened up this graphic way of image making for me”, says Oparah, in conversation with The Guardian earlier this year.
“As an African, as well as an artist, it’s important for me to create new representations,” mentioned the young Nigerian artist earlier this year. Through digital collage, Ikhide remixes found images (via Tumblr, mostly) and bright graphics to explore sexuality, race, bodies and his own cultural identity - the resulting imagery are rich in tone, texture and emotion.
A collaboration between Bogosi Sekhuhkuni, Tabita Rezaire and Nolan Oswald Dennis (a Zambian-born multi-disciplinary artist exploring signifiers of blackness and social codes) NTU describes itself as an agency of “tech healers”, set on investigating the spiritual potential of the Web. Working primarily with installation, the Johannesburg-based group recently exhibited Swaartnet at Post African Futures earlier this year, a small booth that provides “decolonial therapies for the digital age”.
“1 who let/ 2 the hood/ 3 into/ 4 the/ 5 gallery” – reads each of the five network options that audiences can choose from when connecting their smart phone to Farah’s installation, named ‘Wifi poem’. The Somali-Australian decodes and recodes cultural signifiers, fusing URL and IRL mediums to probe at ‘western culture’ and the colonial/appropriative layers within that concept. His recent solo exhibition at Brussel’s MON CHÉRI, Jailbait (For Us By Us), is emblematic of his approach – using coded objects like Uniqlo Leggings and International water to survey racism in consumerist contexts.
A must-see project from Texas-based Yatta Zoker is The LDR Project, an “alt-lit project dedicated to the experiences of first generation Americans”. Through digital collage, a mix of screenshots, text messages and mobile phone photos, Zoker mediates on the nature of long distance relationships and the tech employed to maintain exchanges. A child of West-African immigrants, Zoker works primarily with audio, image and film to create “collage poems”, often inspired by the long distant communications she had with her family growing up.