abstract - Sheila Petty

(full paper) http://hdl.handle.net/10002/446

African Digital Imaginaries

In an environment where popular media forms are traveling across borders and cultures, Africa is often regarded as a colonized space, flooded with foreign media products that are eroding traditional values. However, taking the position that African cultures can only be passive subjects without agency within globalization is to suggest that Africa is doomed to perpetual victimization. This pessimistic view has created much debate among African artists and theorists, leading to a drive to reconfigure the key underpinnings of African identity in an increasingly globalized environment. Far from being disenfranchised in this process, African popular media forms actively confront the failure of post-Independence nations to deliver on the prosperity promised by freedom from colonial rule. Despite the economic and political challenges facing the continent, Africans are inventing spaces of transnational exchange in popular media. The resulting convergent indigenous media products use local needs and issues to transform western-inflected technologies and entertainment forms, thus providing a forum for new types of expression Thus, such works are reconfiguring what it means to be African in the world and are writing Africa on the face of globalization itself.
Given this context, the goal of this paper is to answer theorist Achille Mbembe’s call for new theoretical frameworks of conceiving Africa in a time of change by exploring a new aesthetic of opening and encounter through an analysis of African digital art. Unlike conventional African cinema which has often been more closely aligned with nativism and Afro-Radicalism, African digital media have more openly appropriated western media forms/technologies and transformed them to specifically local uses and ideologies. Thus, I will examine Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter’s installation, For Children (Kenya 2006), which interrogates the nature of violence and the way it affects both victim and violator, and Berni Searle’s installation, Snow White (South Africa 2001), which explores the transnational nature of bodies and histories. Finally, this paper will draw attention to the significant contributions Africans are making to global flows of knowledge and art.