hare, click, repost, send. These are the daily habits of hundreds of thousands of Africans living parts of their life online, connecting them to regions, histories and people that, like for all of us, were previously inaccessible.
Africa’s major urban centres have since 2000 become rapidly digital ready: investment in mobile broadband, fibre-optic cables, and the expansion of power supplies has enabled millions of people across the continent to get online. Coupled with the declining costs of smartphones and tablets, reports celebrating Africa “going digital” proliferate.
But few focus on the more creative and unusual side of digital engagement: how this world has become a playground for artists.
Artists are not only experimenting with digital technologies, but creating new images and artworks that investigate the spaces between the past and the present, analogue and digital, pre- and post-colonial realities.
The use of internet and social media for news consumption and social activism has risen, with many organisations uses digital space as a place to rally and unite, but what about artists? How have they been changing the narrative?
The information age has disassembled what we thought we knew about Africa. It’s offered up alternative stories and visual representations, from Vine dispatches of Ebola-stricken regions, to African “fabbers” building open-source machines from e-waste, to online video collectives in Nigeria.
While the African digital arena expands at a dizzying pace, African digital collagists have taken to the past, using ethnographic images often found online to recreate and remix images of Africa, creating new and often critical narratives.
Websites such as the Nigerian Nostalgia Project have become a popular online resources for collagists to find historical materials photographs, videos, sound clips and graphic art.
“Research is key,” says Adeoso. “I spend endless amounts of time looking for old scans and reading online articles.”
“Mainly I just think what can I do to bring something different to these images? And I start playing with lines and then connecting one line to another. And then I delete, try again, delete, try again,” she explained to OkayAfrica.
“These photos are already art in themselves, and I get to add my own twist.”
Makhubu broadens the idea of a collage by beaming colonial-era images of women onto her own torso. She explains that the series “focused on representations of African women in colonial photography between 1870 and 1920.”
“This project represented a few challenges: the photographs themselves were problematic because they set up a clear distinction between the photographer and the photographed as male and female, European/African, white/black. How was it possible to subvert that hierarchy and re-write the political implications in the photograph?”
Collage was one method Makhubu used to challenge the colonial-era images she found, taking a “different political approach” and a “confrontation of the systems of power in the photographs.”
For a young artist, “digital collage is a way to create a new aesthetic by revising representations from the past to make a context for the present and future,” says Ikhide.
“As an African, as well as an artist, it’s important for me to create new representations that draw influence from the past, but are looking toward the future.”
“Online, the whole world opens up. The more people use it, the more access I have to societal, cultural, and personal images,” says Oparah. “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.”
Oparah finds her images in a variety of ways, often using Google, Tumblr, and her own photography mixed with magazine clippings and still images from film and video.