A dress changing colours in reaction to electronic radiation in the environment. Clothes equipped with sensors that produce electronic music based on your and other’s movements. Just some futuristic and fascinating examples of applications of electronic media technologies.
These inventions might be a hilarious toy for Western electronic junkies but literally miles away from realities in developing nations. In this magazine you will find some surprising, although more down-to-earth, examples of how ICTs are being made to work for people and in particular, for artists and cultural workers even in a non-western context.
Artists in the Northern Hemisphere have been quick to make use of the so called new media, like video in the 60’s and the computer in the 80’s as a new medium for artistic expression. The use of these new media has, with some delay, also spread to Africa, Asia and Latin America where many people have been eager to exploit the computer and the Internet not only for artistic creation, but also for building up alternative spaces for the promotion, distribution and sale of art, and for communication and networking. Today, those who are involved in the art and culture sector in the South, individual artists just as much as cultural and art organisations, could not possibly do what they do now without computers and Internet. ICT has become indispensable now as a tool for communication and exchange between artists who are living in the so-called periphery, thanks to the low communication costs to build those networks.
Every corner of the globe shows creative examples of Internet and new media usage. For example, in Costa Rica, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, MADC (http://www.madc.ac.cr/), constructed a website which presents the curricula and works of about one hundred Central American visual artists. The database and newsletter have contributed greatly to public outreach and to cooperation and exchange amongst artists in the region. It also has sparked off new initiatives. Contacts between artists and organisations which were facilitated through the network of Hivos (Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation) led to a manifestation of video and new media art in the MADC museum, and to the organisation of a competition and exhibition of digital art in El Salvador this year with participation from Cuba and Peru.
Another example is African Colours (http://www.african colours.net/), an initiative which aims to bring together African visual artists on the Internet and offer them a space for them to show and also give the opportunity to sell their work. The ‘networking power’ of ICTs is illustrated by the R-A-I-N website (http://www.r-a-i-n.net/) set up by the Rijksakademie of Amsterdam to facilitate exchange of information and to initiate joint projects by artist’s organisations based in countries spread over the globe like Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil. Another exciting way of creating added value with ICTs is the world-wide virtual poetry magazine (http://www.poetry international.org/) initiated by Poetry International Rotterdam. The magazine consists of linked web pages that are made by local/national editors from 17 different countries including Zimbabwe, India and Colombia. The editors present the poems and the background of their national poets and publish contents about national events and issues concerning poetry.
ICTs can prove to be a very effective medium for of promotion for any artist, and not just limited to the Northern Hmisphere. Especially musicians have taken advantage of Internet and started their own labels and promote and sell their work through Internet. The initiatives of the famous Senegalese musician Youssou N’dour (http://www.youssou.com/) shows how the development of the local music sector in Senegal is being promoted through a good use of Internet. But there are also the less visible successes, for instance Stone Tree Records (http://www.stonetreerecords.com/) that record and sell work of young Belizean musicians. Internet can help in this way to broaden the diversity of expressions, with the added benefits that it can provide an open forum for young artists to present and promote themselves. It can also help counterbalance the monopoly of the commercial cultural industries on the market. Especially in the domain of the film, music and book industries, the continuous process of ownership concentration filters and limits the number of artistic expressions, which are promoted around the globe.
A handful of companies determine who is in the ‘mainstream’ and who is not. However, the Internet domain is increasingly taken over by the same cultural conglomerates for the purpose of selling books, films, music files, etc with the same effect. But as long as access for artists and audience will not be limited, there will be sufficient space for other voices and visions. One critical question remains. Because the use of computers in the South is still very limited, the public outreach of arts via the Internet is also limited. In practice it is therefore rather the public in the North, which gets access to artists and cultural expressions from the so-called peripheral areas or ‘zones of silence’.
Especially in economically least developed countries ICT and new media will not be the tool for artists to reach their home audience. But is that a problem? Not as long as ICT acts as a useful tool instead as an end in itself. Point of departure is that there should be enough diversity in the way people can express themselves and relate to each other. Most of the examples are drawn from initiatives of partners of Hivos, a Dutch development organisation that supports innovative activities in the art and culture sector as well as in the spread and development of ICT use in Africa, Asia and Latin America.