Art & Technology Lab Award

Excited to have gotten funding for the online platform of my Pan-African Cultural Encyclopaedia from LACMA in LA! Everyone who knows me has heard me talking about this project for years. I’ve already started with Ghana, looking into how histories have been passed down, delving into supposed silences and amnesias, collecting oral histories, old photographs, contextualising objects, original material, and the online platform goes live very soon!


This is the Arts & Technology Lab at LACMA, it originally ran from 1967 to 1971 and partnered artists like Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg with technology companies to explore how art and technology could inform, feed, open each other up, and was brought back in 2013. This year the projects are using drones, wearable computing, augmented reality, etc, and with my project, I can explore through technology, and things like virtual storytelling, how to actually make knowledge more embodied…! The launch will be in Accra, but there will also be an exhibition and public programme at LACMA, which is exciting, because it’s an ‘encyclopaedic’ museum. It has an incredible collection, though spatially it has vast halls that centre on artists like Picasso, Mondrian, Miro, Yves Klein, Kandinsky and then on the outskirts relatively modest rooms, e.g. for the whole of Africa. It makes it an amazing place to look into the idea of the encyclopaedia and the ordering of cultural knowledge, into what is centred and highlighted and what is compressed and pushed out to the margins, into how histories are passed down through material objects and what narrative is told around them, into who decides what that narrative is and how and what is included or excluded. With the Cultural Encyclopaedia I really want to honour the idea of subjectivities of knowledge, of their incompleteness, rather than pretend to an objectivity, or a definitive canon; and also to validate informal knowledge forms, like oral, more ephemeral ones, alongside more formal, written, ones. The name of my research platform ANO is taken from the name for grandmother and her traditional role as keeper and passer down of wisdom, but how to counter the idea of one dominant form of history without becoming too nostalgic, too reactionary? Is it possible to upend The History of the Great White Male? Does it matter that members of programmes like the Art & Technology Lab that push the boundaries of innovation, were historically, and except for me (at least in the meeting in LA) are still, white males? And by creating new narratives of history is it possible to engender new geographies of being?

IMG_0973 Others from the Art & Technology Lab, as well as the LACMA team, and the advisory committee made up of companies, like SpaceX, Google, DAQRI etc, still a slightly abstract world to me. My initial plan for the Cultural Encyclopaedia was for the funding to come from Africa and its Diaspora. Not with the idea of being essentialist or exclusionary, but because so much of Africa’s cultural patrimony, whether its magazines, concerts or exhibitions are funded mostly by the West. And though many events wouldn’t take place without this support, especially in the absence of local patronage, most of this support comes from national bodies, exercising the politics of influence and control. In the absence of balance, there is still a disparity of power, of voice, of representation. The great news is that countries like Ghana have begun to finally set up Cultural Funds to support individuals and institutions, that venues like The Republic in Accra, run and financed by Ghanaians, are hosting concerts and other cultural events, alongside the Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise, and that the beginnings of projects, like the Cultural Encyclopaedia, are funded wholly from within Ghana, by culture lovers and artists. It might seem unimportant where the support comes from, but what happens in the concentrated realm of culture has a tendency to move out to wider spheres. And though concepts of geographies, of collective histories, are a kind of construct, we do, to some extent, continue to exist within them. In order to stand with equal footing in the world, we have to have a measure of ownership of our cultural narratives and expressions. It was too hard in the end to push this project ahead with funding only from within Africa, I had to widen my remit, but I am still aiming at least for a balance, and for a synergy of exchange and equality, because the Cultural Encyclopaedia is as much about process as end product, as well as about exploring and dreaming into being, other ways of thinking and existing in the world.