[spectre] Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention, HMKV Dortmund, Germany, until 22 April 2018

Inke Arns inke.arns at snafu.de
Tue Oct 31 11:41:04 CET 2017

Dear Spectres,

we opened the exhibition "Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention“ at HMKV some ten days ago. It puts Afrofuturism in dialogue with alternative technological solutions and imaginations and presents Africa as a continent of technological innovation. Its main topics are space travel, the deep sea and (alternative) technologies.

We are currently producing an online publication that will document the events of the Afro-Tech Fest as well as feature newly commissioned articles.

Please drop by if you are around! The exhibition (some say it’s awesome!) will be on view at HMKV in Dortmund, Germany, until 22 April 2018.

All the best,
Inke Arns


Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention
HMKV at the Dortmunder U
Dortmund, Germany
21 October 2017 – 22 April 2018


The exhibition Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention, curated by Inke Arns and Fabian Saavedra-Lara, puts Afrofuturism in dialogue with alternative technological solutions and imaginations. The speculative narratives unfolding in the artworks on display are confronted with actual inventions from maker scenes in different African countries. This creates a double shift of perspective: While the artworks project decidedly African and diasporic sci-fi visions, the real devices appear as evidence of a technological development that is already underway. The exhibition thus presents Africa as a continent of technological innovation.
Sherif Adel (EGY), John Akomfrah (GHA), Jean-Pierre Bekolo (CAM), Neïl Beloufa (FR), Frances Bodomo (GHA), Drexciya (US), Kiluanji Kia Henda (AGO), Louis Henderson (UK), Jaromil (IT/NL), Wanuri Kahiu (KEN), Kapwani Kiwanga (CAN/FR), Abu Bakarr Mansaray (SLE), Cristina de Middel (ESP), Fabrice Monteiro (BEN), Wangechi Mutu (KEN), The Otolith Group (UK), RAMMELLZEE (US), Tabita Rezaire (FR/ZA), Simon Rittmeier (DEU), Soda_Jerk (AUS)
BRCK (KEN), CardioPad (CAM), Chowberry (NGA), CladLight (KEN), Educade (ZA), GiftedMom (CAM), Juakaliscope (KEN), Kayoola Solar Bus (UGA), M-PESA (KEN), Robohand (ZA), Shiriki Hub (RWA), Uko Wapi (DEU)


Exhibition focus

The exhibition Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention curated by Inke Arns and Fabian Saavedra-Lara shows 20 international artistic positions and 12 tech projects from the maker scenes in various countries of Africa.

The starting point for this project was a research trip undertaken by Inke Arns through various African countries in 2014; one which drew her attention to the maker scene and the new technological devices, apps, software solutions and digital products that have been coming into being for some years now against the background of increasing digitisation and networking on the continent. Many of these inventions have the goal of helping the community of users in everyday life and compensating for infrastructural problems. They often function according to principles of general accessibility and open source, which allow changes in design, repurposing and continuing development. They thus represent an alternative draft to the technological monocultures of the "global North" that dominate here.

The inventions presented in the exhibition appear as proofs of an already initiated technological development that could lead to a future not limited to the narrative of modernity and progress of the West – a future that is already shown to us now in excerpts by the artistic works in the exhibition. The artistic media used are videos, video installations, photography, drawings, records, software, sculptures and comics.

The 32 participating artists and tech projects come from 22 countries: Egypt, Angola, Australia, Germany, Benin, France, Ghana, the United Kingdom, Italy, Cameroon, Canada, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Spain, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, the USA and the planet Saturn.

Many of the artists and representatives of tech projects were present at the exhibition opening on Friday, 20 October 2017 and during the Afro-Tech Festival (20-28 October 2017).


Exhibition design

The graphic design was developed by the Dortmund design agency KoeperHerfurth. The designers have discovered exciting parallels between Sun Ra's Egyptian headdress (with solar disc and two U-shaped rays arranged around this disc) and the U at the peak of the Dortmunder U. The U functions in their designs as the ultimate Afrofuturistic symbol and as a link with the planet Saturn.

The exhibition scenography originates from the architect Ruth M. Lorenz (Berlin). She imagines the Dortmunder U as the mythical "mothership connection", almost as a kind of gigantic space cruiser, and the exhibition space of the HMKV as the mysterious, technoid and at the same time fascinating substructure of a space vessel about to take off.


Exhibition topics

Important reference points of many of the artistic works in the exhibition are the jazz musician Sun Ra, Afrofuturism in general and the myth of Drexciya in particular.

Sun Ra
One of the most important and well-known representatives of Afrofuturism is the avant garde jazz musician Herman Blount (1914-1993), who reinvented himself as the art figure Sun Ra from the planet Saturn. His entire body of musical work is permeated by a variety of future narratives about outer space and interstellar journeys from an Afro-American perspective. For Sun Ra, outer space is an idyll, in which racism and discrimination can be overcome and where all people can find space for their own narrative, thus empower themselves and be free. For him, the future isn't possible without considering the past. With Sun Ra, this Afrofuturist concept expresses itself in numerous references to the realm of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt as a symbol for the cultural hegemony of the African continent lost through colonialism and in the diaspora. These references are found, for example, in his nom de plume (Ra is the Egyptian sun god) and in many costumes and stage decorations. In Afrofuturism, the future is thus not viewed as linear (like in Western science fiction), but instead as circular.

The Detroit techno duo Drexciya developed imaginary worlds inspired by Afrofuturism in many concept albums. In their releases, Drexciya is also the name of a legendary city beneath the sea. This "Afrofuturist Atlantis" is populated by the descendants of pregnant women that were taken as slaves from various countries of Africa and thrown overboard and murdered during the crossing of the Atlantic. According to the legend, their unborn children survived in the womb and developed the ability to breathe and live underwater. They founded an unknown underwater civilization that was in possession of utopian technologies.

Afrofuturism in popular culture
Besides Sun Ra and the Detroit techno duo Drexciya, there have been and still are many artists since the mid-20th century who have delved into Afrofuturist concepts and aesthetics in popular culture. Sun Ra's ideas and performance practice, for example, influenced a large number of artists in techno and in current electronic club music (e.g. Flying Lotus), in hip-hop and in contemporary R&B (e.g. Missy Elliott and Janelle Monáe). There are also autonomous comparable developments in other parts of the world that deal with diasporan visions of the future from the perspective of black communities, and which, thanks to the use and adoption of new technologies of producing, for example, the studio and multi-channel mixing board in the case of dub in Jamaica, can create futurist tracks (e.g. Lee "Scratch" Perry).

Three major themes permeate the exhibition: outer space, the sea and technology.

Outer space
John Akomfrah's short, experimental documentary film The Last Angel of History examines the relationships between pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel and rapidly developing computer technology. The short film Afronauts from the Ghanaian director Frances Bodomo looks at (like the photo series of Cristina de Middel) the real history of a planned space program in Zambia of the 1960s – a time at which political utopias encountered technological progress. Kiluanji Kia Henda's photographs show futuristic architectures in the Angolan capital city of Luanda. The artist reinterprets these post-colonial building structures in Icarus 13 into 'proof' of the first African journey to the Sun. Kapwani Kiwanga's Sun Ra Repatriation Project has the goal of bringing Sun Ra back to his actual planet of origin: Saturn. Sun Ra, who died in 1993, was a jazz musician. He claimed to originate from the planet Saturn and represented the philosophy of the «astro-black», which confirmed his extraterrestrial origin. In The Afronauts, the photojournalist Cristina de Middel reconstructs the history of the Zambian space program of the 1960s with artistic means. In the process she combines her own images, created 50 years later, with copies of historical documents and reproductions of historical photographs. Taking the work of the cosmic jazz musician Ra as a starting point, the speculative narrative of Soda_Jerk examines the connection between science fiction and social policy in the Black-Atlantic music culture. In the exhibition, Astro Black is presented as a two-channel video installation with four episodes alternating between the two screens. Sherif Adel's comic series imagines Egypt in the year 3104 as a country in which nothing much has changed in comparison with today: There is still corruption, traffic chaos, shenanigans and political indifference. What might have moved the extraterrestrials to land there?

The sea
The British artist group The Otolith Group takes up the myth of "Drexciya", a "black Atlantis" in the Atlantic Ocean, in its video Hydra Decapita, in order to think about the connection between globalization, climate change and the finance system in a film essay. The South Africa-based artist Tabita Rezaire deals with the sea as a storehouse for pain, lost stories and memories in the era of colonialism in Deep Down Tidal, while it also contains the global infrastructure of our present day telecommunications within it. The filmmaker Simon Rittmeier, in his film Drexciya, takes up the myth of the same name in order to use the methods of science fiction to tell of the images circulating in media today and about discussion of the "refugee crisis". The legendary Detroit techno duo Drexciya is presented on the basis of a representative selection of 12" records, EPs and albums, as well as audio plays.

Naked Reality is an Afrofuturist science fiction film located 150 years in the future. The cities of Africa have grown together to form a gigantic dystopian metropolis in the film of the Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo. The protagonist Wanita leaves the house one morning, not knowing that her first prayer to the ancestors has initiated her journey to DIMSI – a world that one can't see. For Kempinski, Neïl Beloufa asked his interview partners in various cities to imagine a future they talk about in the present tense. Their hopeful, poetic and spiritual stories and fantasies have been compiled into a video that combines reality and science fiction, ethnology and critique and cleverly undermines our exotic expectations and worn out stereotypes of Africa. Louis Hendersons Lettres du Voyant (letters of the seer) is a film essay that uses documentary methods to tell of spiritism and technology in present day Ghana. The narrative of the film revolves around a mysterious practice known as "Sakawa" – Internet Scam (fraudulent mass e-mails) that is enriched with voodoo magic. The Italian artist and "Rasta Coder" Jaromil (Denis Roio) has designed and programmed an operating system on the basis of Rastafarian philosophy with Dyne:bolic / Rastasoft. As a programmer, Jaromil uses free software as a matter of principle and as an artist designs projects with a central theme of the sharing of resources and the accessibility of technology. Wanuri Kahiu's film Pumzi, "Kenya's first science fiction film" (Wired), takes place in a futuristic Africa, 35 years after the Third World War, the "Water War". In a post-apocalyptic world, all life on Earth has vanished and humanity has withdrawn beneath the Earth's surface. Water has become the most important resource. Abu Bakarr Mansaray's large format drawing Ebola Virus Missile Industry allows a look into an illegal weapons factory. In this factory, which stands at an unknown location, frightful long distance missiles are manufactured that can carry the Ebola pathogen to distant parts of the planet. The Belgian-Beninese photographer Fabrice Monteiro comments on environmental destruction in various regions of Africa in his photographic work The Prophecy. In his images he stages fantastic entities he has designed together with the designer Doulcy from Dakar in apocalyptic landscapes. Wangechi Mutu's animated short film The End of eating Everything deals with consumption, greed and loss of control, which are of central importance for the capitalistic ways of existence in the 21st century. They allow the collage-like works of Mutu to come alive. The American graffiti artist and hip-hop performer RAMMELLZEE appeared in self-made masks and costumes and embodied various characters, which, in combination, coincided with the mathematical formula RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ. Gasholeer is one of these costumes: an Afrofuturist exoskeleton weighing 148 pounds. It is inspired by the image of an android that RAMMELLZEE sprayed onto a subway car in New York in 1981.


Tech projects

The twelve selected tech projects cover a variety of areas. BRCK (Kenya) is an Internet server that also ensures access to the Internet even without a stable power supply. M-PESA (Kenya) is a cash-free method of payment that functions via mobile telephone and for which one requires no bank account. Uko Wapi (Germany) – English: "Where are you?" – is an innovative address app that reliably also finds locations in areas without an existing address system. Another important area is that of health and medicine: Robohand (South Africa) provides prostheses (fingers, hands, legs) for printing out oneself with a 3D printer, at a fraction of the price of conventional medical prostheses. GiftedMom (Cameroon) is an app that provides expecting mothers with useful information and contributes to sexual education. Chowberry (Nigeria) combats hunger through innovative usage of the expiration dates of food products. CardioPad (Cameroon) helps with medical diagnostics in areas with low populations and creates a direct connection with medical specialists. And the Juakaliscope (Kenya) is a completely functional microscope from the 3D printer. Kayoola Solar Bus (Uganda) and Shiriki Hub (Rwanda) are committed to the sustainable use of solar energy. CladLight (Kenya), on the other hand, is a self-luminous vest that serves to promote road safety for moped and motorcycle riders, while Educade (South Africa) is dedicated to (school) education with converted old games consoles.


Partners, Funders

An exhibition by HMKV (Hartware MedienKunstVerein) in cooperation with Interkultur Ruhr – a project by the Regionalverband Ruhr (RVR) – and Africa Positive e.V.
The exhibition is funded by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes) and the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of NRW

Main funder HMKV: Dortmunder U – Center for Art and Creativity


Dr. Inke Arns, Director, Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV), Office: Hoher Wall 15, 44137 Dortmund, Germany. Exhibitions: Dortmunder U, Leonie-Reygers-Terrasse, 44137 Dortmund, T +49-231-496642-0 (direct line: -11), F +49-231-496642-29, inke.arns at hmkv.de, www.hmkv.de

HMKV is the recipient of the 2017 ADKV-ART COLOGNE Award for Art Associations

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