ISSN 2050-5337 - ISSUE 4

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Monday, 14 March 2016 14:16

Dr Titus Leber - Africa Interactive Featured

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Africa Interactive Africa Interactive

 

In the 1990s a courageous operator called Titus Leber, from Austria, spent two years working with IBM Europe on a visionary project, collecting digital reference material which reflected the many cultures within Europe. That project was the subject of global discussions at the time about the concept of ‘content-ware’ which was a conversation developing in parallel to the idea of software and hardware. It is now dormant with the intellectual property remaining with Titus.

 

 

Since then, Titus has travelled extensively, living in Asia for 17 years where he created two major interactive projects:

  • One on the life and teaching of the Buddha based on the murals of the Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok - commissioned by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under royal patronage
  • The second bringing the Borobudur Temple in Java, the largest Buddhist Temple in the world, to cyberspace - commissioned by the Indonesian Government.

Dr. Leber with Chief Nike Okundaye

More recently his interest has shifted to the African continent, travelling and living there for months at a time. Still ahead of the curve in his thinking, his current passion is to work with key cultural figures in Africa to collect and preserve evidence of the multi-various cultures within different regions and/or tribal contexts, many of which are rapidly disappearing. Sometimes in this pursuit Titus finds himself in situations that you and I would find too risky or plain dangerous. He is not only a man of his convictions, which takes courage, but his activity also literally requires stamina and courage. Here Titus talks about this project for which he is constantly trying to raise enthusiasm and funds:

Among the many attempts aiming at a comprehensive overview of the complex system known as ‘Africa’, trying to convey an overall picture on African culture is probably the most fragmented and disparate endeavor. This is not only due to the complexity of the subject matter, but above all to the eternal yet ephemeral nature through which African civilization manifests itself, conditioned by the volatile oral tradition on which it is often based and on the massive expatriation of its artifacts.

Dr.Leber at the coronation of H.R.M. Oba Aladé Imolé Olorun Jing of AdjarraYet, the efforts to fixate and document the phenomenon of African cultural expression have been manifold: publications – from scholarly treaties to lavish coffee table books, collections, exhibitions and conferences, films and TV documentaries, websites and cable TV formats – all have highlighted countless facets of this vibrant corpus of self-expression. Yet, what is lacking is one great unifying endeavor which brings these many efforts to a single converging point - a platform where major and varied information concerning any major African cultural topic could be brought at one's fingertip to an instant merger of every aspect related to this topic.

It is all about essence! For instance, if a user is keen to experience the specifics of a certain tribe, how wonderful it would be if they were also able to instantly learn about its myths of origin, see its dances, learn about its rituals, hear its music, listen to the transcribed wisdom of its elders, explore the style of and the whereabouts of its masks and art, be directed to specific collections - not necessarily in a google-like search mode manner, but more in the style of a sophisticated web application which would convey the quintessence of one's field of interest in a well-edited and concentrated form, less research tool than sensual compendium.

A lot of the relevant information has already been recorded or preserved in one form or another, in private or public collections and archives or on the internet. One can therefore distinguish between three forms of legacies of African cultural heritage – each one remaining relatively intangible in its own way:

  1. The ‘dormant heritage’ which resides, though well preserved, but completely dispersed and often not readily accessible and documented in private or public collections all over the world, still widely unavailable.
  2. The ‘virtual heritage’ which consists in the galaxy of images and texts which have been recorded on various supports and media which are available either in archives or in cyberspace through the internet, but stored in an inhomogeneous, scattered manner.
  3. The ‘volatile living heritage’, consisting of the vast ensemble of living, but fast-vanishing ceremonies, initiation and transitional rites, as well as the traditional wisdom which is contained in the rich personal memories and experience of the elders - often conveyed in the form of traditional oral legacy still transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth.

Dr. Leber with H.M. Emperor Kabiessi Ayorinde Kolawole President of the Awo Imole Fraternity of BeninIt would appear most desirable, that all elements constituting these different repositories of information about African heritage could be organized in a converging manner, allowing to instantaneously call up and interconnect the quintessence distilled from all these sources from a single, unified platform amounting to what could be coined as a PAN AFRICAN CULTURAL CYBER ENCYCLOPEDIA (PACCE) - a huge, dynamic and extremely flexible database/platform, providing a bird's eye overview on the vast extents of African civilization.

In its initial phase this multimedia-platform under the name ‘AFRICA INTERACTIVE’, would aim at inviting those who are or have been in the process of creating top quality audiovisual and textual content on traditional African culture to contribute to a compilation which is conceived to broaden knowledge, extend the horizon, convey the beauty of Africa's rich heritage, as well as helping to break down preconceived barriers and prejudices related to traditional values and customs. Top photographers, collectors, editors, scholars, museums, and academic institutions, even travel organizers and individual tourists with great photographic skills would be called upon to participate in this primarily non-commercial venture.

In conjunction with these, those wise men and women who are still carrying the profound ancient wisdom and history of their tribes in their memory would be invited to bear living testimony to their patrimony. Priests, grillots, storytellers, oracle-readers and soothsayers, medicine men, Marabouts, heads of secret mask societies, magicians, sorcerers, but also local kings and their advisors. Their precious testimonies would be recorded and, besides being archived in their original form, could be translated, edited and compressed into the audiovisual building blocks of a comprehensive system which would facilitate their modular combinability according to the rules of an optimized conveyance of African cultural content.

Dr. Leber with HRM.Aderemi King Adeen Adedapo King of Ido Osun NigeriaEach of these modules would become, so to say, a small building block, the digital equivalent of an ‘African Glass Bead’ combinable into innumerable meaningful patterns of knowledge within an endless array of virtual facets and possible combinations, depicting the complexities of African Cultural heritage at different levels of complexity and from various angles.

How to go about generating this kind of modular content without major support and financing? The process could be set in motion most effectively by launching a number of ‘micro-projects’, leading next to the establishment of a vast ALL AFRICAN CULTURAL IMAGE DATABASE (AACID) combined with small audiovisual modules and a carefully balanced selection of compact articles which will generate ever increasing amounts of coherent content.

One of the key concepts of such a platform would be to ensure that it does not remain limited to the academic environment or to aficionados of African art and culture, but that it finds its way into the daily visual vocabulary and communication patterns of the young generation. A generation which is otherwise easily prone to the temptations of ‘easy viewing’ and digital fast food such as it is increasingly imposed on the market by major Western and Asian media conglomerates. It is of essential importance that the traditional wisdom of the elders of Africa gets channeled through new media to the hearts and minds of young people. It is therefore suggested to implement this platform not only on a freely available basis for the educational system, but to also encourage and promote its distribution by young people. For instance by pre-installing it for free on any newly sold portable device such as smart phones, tablets or ipads.

Setting up a project like ‘Africa Interactive’ could constitute a first step towards the establishment of a larger Pan African entity concerned with matters relating to the continent's cultural heritage - an effort to deal in a concerted way with the preservation and propagation of the rich African Cultural Heritage. Such an effort could be kick-started by, an ALL AFRICAN CULTURAL PARLIAMENT (AACP), conceived on the model of the ECP, the European Cultural Parliament, and constitute a politically independent framework in charge of helping to steer matters of cultural relevance. Led primarily by African specialists in fields as varied as art, science and anthropology, one would imagine the dissemination in a non-exploitive manner of its rich cultural heritage and without foreign interference.

Venu Dhupa

Venu Dhupa has just completed nearly three years work with Creative Scotland as Director of Creative Development as part of the senior start-up team. Her responsibilities included the Arts, a number of Investment Programmes and International Strategy and Engagement. Prior to working at Creative Scotland she was working as a consultant and had her own publishing company.

Former employment has been: World-wide Director of Arts for the British Council where she led and completed the first international consultation/review in 25 years on the Council's global arts strategy; Director of Creative Innovation at the Southbank Centre, London (Europe's largest cultural centre). The Creative Innovation unit was imagined as a tool for introducing new partners to the organisation as well as an organisational development tool; Fellowship Director at The UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) where she managed a portfolio valued at £13million; Chief Executive at the Nottingham Playhouse; and Producer (Mobile Touring) at the Royal National Theatre.
She was the inaugural Chair of the East Midlands Cultural Consortium appointed by the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture Media and Sport. Her career history has always balanced creative exploration and strategy with implementation and delivery. This has been an important balance in developing a judgement for accountability with risk. Her motivation remains good customer service, good value and positive social change and these continue to drive her as an activist.

She is or has been a Trustee of the Theatres Trust, a Member of University College London's Heritage Committee, the external examiner for UEA MA in Creative Entrepreneurship; a Governor of Guildford Conservatoire, a Council Member of Loughborough University, a Member of the Institute of Ideas and a Member of the European Cultural Parliament. She is a patron of the Asha Foundation. She has been awarded the prestigious National Asian Woman of Achievement Award for her contribution to the Arts and Culture.

 

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