Space: A Digital Art Festival

By Cecilia Garama

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The Digital Art Festival titled “Space” took place on October 4th– 7th  in several locations around Nairobi. The festival was organized by film maker Mbithi Masya and his co-curator Sandra Chege of Youth Knows No Limits (YKNL) in partnership with the Goethe Institut. The first of its kind in Kenya, the festival was created around a forum to allow discussion, on thoughts, ideas and issues concerning digital art as well as the presentation of digital art.

Digital art is artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as an essential part of the creative or presentation process. Technology has become part and parcel of all spheres of our lives. Be it in or personal lives, or professional lives we cannot escape technology, and it’s presence only gains momentum with time.  According to the festival’s moderator, art journalist Millicent Muthoni, the festival “is about interrogating our reality in this day and age living in digital spheres. We want to examine the psychological, social and economic impact of living in a digital sphere and how we can use the digital platforms available to help leapfrog development.”  

What Went Down

The festival’s program was an exciting array of workshops, screenings, talks by renowned persons in the digital art field and several exhibitions of digital artworks and a performance titled Winterreise by the German artists.

The festival kicked off on October 4th at the Goethe Institut with a screening of PressPausePlay a film by David Dworsky and Victor Kohler, illustrating the ever changing vibrancy of our current times as a result of the digital revolution. Digital artists Musa Omusi, Melisa Allela and Lenny Njaghi exhibited their works and hosted a talk together with co-curator Mbithi Masya at the Shifteye Gallery.

Victoria Herzog held a public talk on media and design education on the 5th of October at the Goethe Institut auditorium. Ghanaian-German designer and business development mentor within the crafts and furniture sector Mark Kwani followed with a talk on Design and Technology in the African context, and Chris King ended the day by exploring disorientation in digital spheres.

An open house session was held at the Gearbox on Ngong Road 6th October. Kenyan born digital artist Jepchumba held a talk at the Goethe Institut Auditorium on the importance for African digital content. Jepchumba is the founder the an online digital collective African Digital Art (ADA) is one of the 20 youngest Power Women in Africa- as listed by Forbes. And the day was ended with a talk from artist Awuor Onyango at the Lavington Mall who introduced attendees to Makeda a fictional character named after the spirited rebel queen of Sheba, who lives on the internet in Makeda’s Lair. Makeda goes against the boundaries of privacy both positively and negatively; she copies our outfits, screenshots conversations without our knowledge. Through this fictional character Awuor gives us a window to reflect on how we use the internet.

Another open house session was held on 7th October at the Creatives Garage, followed by  a talk and screening of Tuko Macho, a Kenyan web series by the Nest Collective exploring Kenyan digital citizenship, at the Goethe Institut Auditorium. In the breakout online series Tuko Macho, a carjacker disappears during a heist, but a video released by a masked vigilante surfaces online asking the city to vote on whether the carjacker should live or die as punishment for his crimes. The resulting vote – as well as the manhunt for the masked stranger, led by a relentless detective – begins a chain of events that will change the city forever. The thought provoking web series asks questions like:

  • Where do digital freedoms intersect with civic duty – or rebellion?
  • What place do hackers, armchair philosophers and Facebook controversy mongers have in building or evolving public understandings?
  • And what room does technology create for power, access and control of existing and new narratives by the people, for the people?

The festival came to close on 8th of October with a performance of Winterreise by Leo Hofmann and Benjamin van Bebber at the courtyard between Kenindia House and Alliance Francias, followed by a workshop titled Choreographic Coding Lab by Jeanne Charlotte Vogt, and a public talk by all three artists at the Goethe Institut, and  finally a wrap party at Privee in Westlands which featured sets by DJ  EA Wave and DJ Taio.  

If it wasn’t evident that digital art in Nairobi was a “a thing”, now you know it very much is.