The Goethe-Institut Namibia recently sent an afro-futurist writer and photographer, Masiyaleti Mbewe, for participation in the Kultursymposium 2019 that was held from June 19-21 in Weimar and under the theme of ‘Recalculating the Route’. Organised by the Goethe-Institut, the international event brought creative persons from around the world together for deliberation on technology and its role in the formulation of a future in the human mind.
“The topics we explored included the state of technology, politics, art, climate and the global economy in an attempt to keep track of and amend any existing plans in an effort to adapt and evolve accordingly as the future is unpredictable,” said Mbewe. More than 70 speakers from 35 countries presented their understanding of trends with regard to arts and cultural development through lectures, discussions and artistic interventions. Mbewe said the theme and topics are relevant and important to Namibia. “It’s important for us to analyze the ways in which advancements in technology, politics etc. on a global scale affect us. I mean, what is our place in the construction of these futures? Self-interrogation is necessary in order to establish how sustainable these advancements are. We have to consult and, in a way predict these outcomes,” she said.
One speaker who stood out the most to Mbewe was Nanjira Sambuli, who she says facilitated a critical and informative discussion on the relationship between gender and technology. “On a Namibian perspective, let’s look at how online language structures itself when gender is discussed, how can we make it more inclusive. How do we begin to establish a non-binary digital space free of gender norms and gender restrictions?” she said. Sambuli is a political scientist and activist from Kenya. She currently leads policy advocacy to promote digital equality in access to and use of the web at the World Wide Web Foundation.
Digital segregation, access to and inclusion were hot topics at the Kultursymposium and Mbewe says that while it may be perceived as important for artists in Africa to digitize their work, the concept is not always relevant to everybody. “I find it problematic to suggest that only digitally archived work is important. Of course, some artists have found exposure and notoriety from their usage of social media, their websites etc, so it’s a complex question; those who are savvy are savvy, those whom aren’t, aren’t. This does not take away from the value of the work although this problematizes the art’s reach if people prefer to access it online,” said Mbewe.
Looking forward and how changes in technology and the global scenes of economy and politics effects arts and culture development, Mbewe said there are key matters for Africa to address before delving into the novelty technological development. “We need to look at what are the relationships between these advancements and the marginalized people? How can they be weaponized and what are the ethics governing their use? Are the marginalized consulted in the process of developing these advancements taking into account how they have often been excluded? These are questions that need answers,” she said.