The story of Ker Thiossäne, Villa for Art and Multimedia

(based on an interview with Marion Louisgrand-Sylla)

The Afropixel festival took place for the second time in Dakar at Kër Thiossane, in connection with the Dak’Art biennale. ’Kër’ means "house" in Wolof (language widely spoken in Senegal) and ’thiossane’ refers to traditional Senegalese culture. The story of Kër Thiossane is intertwined with the personal stories of Marion Louisgrand Sylla et Francois Sylla, founders of this Villa for Art and Multimedia. 

Francois Sylla is a musician. He grew up in the Villa, and always wanted to make it a space for art and culture strongly anchored in the neighbourhood of Sicap. That is why about 10 locals from Sicap were involved in the organisation of Afropixel 2010. Links to the local community have also been made by the Villa’s artists in residence. One of this years guest artists, Audry Liseron-Montfils (Guyane/Belgium) worked for instance with a weaver next door. In 2008 Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran (India) set up a micro radio and cinema on the N’Gellaw market close by. 

Kër Thiossane crosspollinates Senegalese traditions with influences from the rest of the world. Marion worked a long time in Paris at Mains d’Oeuvres (cradle of the Mal au Pixel festival) on the development of the TransEuropeHalles network, that brings together independent cultural centres, most of them located in buildings from industrial heritage, and operating at the crossing of art and society. Later on within the context of Artfactories and the programme "In and Out of Europe", Marion was involved in exchange projects between informal art spaces in Africa and Europe. After meeting Francois, the idea of Kër Thiossane came along naturally. 

The activities of Kër Thiossane started in 2002 with the aim to provide African artists with access to multimedia tools and with support from Fondation Langlois. At the time, there was already a large amount of cyber cafes in Senegal, and generally speaking, Senegal has been doing quite well in terms of new technologies as compared to the rest of Africa. But still today there is no department for digital art at the National School of Arts in Dakar and people mostly ’consume’ the internet. Ker Thiossane wanted to propose another approach to media and technology, emphasizing them as tools for knowledge that can be appropriated, and support the development of African multimedia creations on the internet. "Technology doesn’t prevent tradition from existing, it’s the encounter between the two that is interesting" says Marion. Since 2002, Kër Thiossane has organised various workshops bringing together new technologies and traditional creative disciplines (dance, textile design etc) and has hosted several production residency projects.

In 2008, Kër Thiossane organised the first edition of Afropixel, which became the new African node in Pixelache network. As a space where critical and unconventional ways for people to take part in the development of media and technology can be experimented with, Pixelache seemed very interesting and relevant for the Villa. In addition, Kër Thiossane has early on been involved in and relying on different networks, including TransEuropeHalles. Until last year the Villa had been open on and off, due to a lack of consistent resources, but the work achieved since 2002 gained Kër Thiossane credibility. It made it possible for them to receive funding from the European Union for the first time, to develop the 2-year project "Rose des vents numériques’, that opens up the network to other independent multimedia art centres and artists in the rest of Africa and the Caribbean. That is how Afropixel 2010 brought together an amazing mix of organisations and artists from Senegal, Mali, Congo, South Africa, Marocco and the Martinique along with other guest from Europe and the USA.

Nathalie Aubret - Pixelache

JPG - 40.2 ko

Kër Thiossane

Kër Thiossane began its activities in 2002 in Dakar. In 2003, with the participation of the Canadian Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and New Technologies, the association opened a digital public space, with the aim of offering to the Senegalese activities other than simple consumption – the fascination of the Internet, diffused by the numerous cybercafés in the country.

A venue for research, residence, creation and training, Kër Thiossane encourages the integration of multimedia in traditional artistic and creative practices, and seeks to support the mixing of disciplines. Kër Thiossane focuses its activities on research into art and new technologies and what they imply in our societies through residences, training, meetings and workshops. In 2008 it set up the first Afropixel Festival that focused on open source software linked with citizens’ practices in Africa and in Southern countries.

Kër Thiossane develops its exchanges and collaboration with structures in the African continent, but develops links with other continents, in particular in a South-South perspective (without intervention from a Western country). To achieve this, Kër Thiossane sets up projects of international co-operation, such as the Rose des Vents Digital project.

Kër Thiossane links the development of artistic digital practices to other domains of society ; education and training, creative industries, citizenship, ecology and town development.

JPG - 24.1 ko

Rose des Vents Digital Project

In order to develop his activities, giving more visiblity and concrately network, Kër Thiossane has created the co-operation project "Rose des vents Digital".

This project is supported by the Programme for Cultural Industries set up by the European Union and the Unions of African/Caribbean/Pacific States.

The objective of Rose des Vents Digital is to enable digital co-operation between multimedia cultural spaces in Africa and in the Caribbean. This project aims at the development of digital artistic co-operation, the sharing of technical, cultural and artistic knowledge, between Senegal, Mali, South Africa and the Caribbean, countries and regions rich in experiences and different cultural universes.
The Rose des Vents Digital project will provide visibility for venues, projects and artistic and digital contents in Africa and the Caribbean. It will enable a better understanding of venues, actors, projects, as well as a better comprehension of specific issues for the African continent. It will enable the development of a network of actors and the creation of tools and contents particular to Africa and the Caribbean.

In the framework of ROSES DES VENTS DIGITAL, Digital Diffusion Project Africa/Caribbean
EU/ACP Programme supporting cultural industries in ACPM countries

Art, Technologies and Societal Transformation in Africa

In 2008, Kër Thiosssane organized the first edition of the Afropixel Festival, which encouraged the public to envisage art and technology as a means of citizens’ action in the countries of the South, and to understand the opportunities afforded by open source tools and technology for African artistic creation.
Following on from this first edition, Afropixel 2010 invites artists, computer scientists, researchers, thinkers, actors in civil society and entrepreneurs to exchange and express their points of view on the place and the impact of new technologies in present-day African societies.
Through exhibitions, installations, performances, conferences, public debates and workshops, the Festival will enable the examination of issues, and also the limits of new technologies for development in Africa, in fields as diverse as urban transformation, ecology, education, citizenship and democracy.
Workshops will present different alternatives made available through new technologies, in open source forms, an aiming at real and sustainable African development.
In 2010, Afropixel is particips in the dynamic of the Mobile A2K and WikiAfrica Art projects proposed by the Lettera 27 Foundation, concerning new educational opportunities offered by the mobile telephone, Internet platforms, open source licences and social networks in Africa.
On the other hand, Afropixel has become enriched by collaboration with Ce Qui Vient, project of the Biennale of Contemporary Art, Rennes 2010, which focuses attention on what tomorrow means and on the way in which we think about the future in our societies. Thus, Kër Thiossane will welcome the “Laboratoire des Perspectives Singulières” (Laboratory of Singular Prospects - Thinking About the Future) during the Afropixel Festival.
The Afropixel Festival is in keeping with the international co-operation project Rose des Vents Digital, carried by Kër Thiossane. This project of the setting-up of a network of African and Caribbean structures active in the field of digital art benefits from a support programme for cultural industries set up by the European Union and the Office for African/Caribbean/ Pacific States.

Afropixel Themes

Afropixel 2010 aims to generate a debate on the place of new technologies in today’s society and to envisage its active use.
Around artistic digital creation projects there are questions of ecology, town development, democracy and citizenship, and education. The propositions developed serve as a basis for reflection about our societies, thinking about our collective future, and being inventive and innovative.
The question of the creation of specific digital tools and contents on the African continent will be at the centre of the project, in particular through workshops on open source software and DIY (Do It Yourself) and making available tools for the sharing and diffusion of knowledge. Training in open source software, creation residences, working meetings and the setting up of a network of artists and actors in the digital world will enable the participants to work concretely together.
Afropixel 2010 Took place over one month, in the framework of the Biennale of Dakar OFF, and will be composed of different actions :

- Artistic Residences
- Exhibitions, performances concerts, film shows...
- Public Debates/Colloquies
- Public training – workshops
- A Laboratory of Thinking About the Future : “Le Laboratoire de Prospectives Singulières”

During the last few years, the use of technologies – mobile telephone, computer, Internet - has known a development without precedent in Africa. The Africans have adopted these technologies with spectacular rapidity. Some people see the entry of Africa into the planetary village as an obvious fact, and new technologies as a means of getting the Black Continent out of marginalization and poverty. Now, in the main, Africans remain passive recipients and consumers of technological products manufactured elsewhere.
What is the reality of transformations linked to new technologies in Africa in society ? What relationship is there between new technologies and questions of ecology, town development, education, citizenship and democracy ? Today, technologies question our project for society with great acuity ; their use reveals the faults of our collective functioning at the same time as it opens up potential for thinking about the future and taking things in hand.

Digital Technologies, Ecology, Environment and Town Planning in Africa : What Issues ?

In Africa, questions of ecology and the environment are very little taken into account by citizens, or by the public authorities ; when rapid development of towns generates important problems of pollution and living environment, the contribution of technologies in this context to the environment is ambivalent. On the one hand, the inflation of the need for information brings with it the proliferation of technological tools and their consequences ; heavy requirements in energy resources, exploitation of toxic matter, and accumulation of computer waste. This data is not taken into consideration when the technological development of the African continent is envisaged. Thus, in Africa, imports of computer material are developing in an amazingly rapid manner, without any thought being given to its use, it recycling, or its impact on the environment. On the other hand, digital tools bring high quality, new and original knowledge of our environment (measuring pollution, resources cartography) and are powerful tools for analysis and development. Digital technologies can also help to reveal situations in the field of pollution, ecology, and resources both to citizens and public authorities, and thus provide tools in the field of town development.

What Production of Technologies and Contents in Africa in the Context of Economy of Knowledge ?

The rapid emergence of a globalized society, founded on the exchange of information and knowledge through information and communication technologies, tends to widen the gap between countries having committed to this mutation towards an economy of knowledge, and the others. The difficulty that African countries have in acceding to new technologies of information and communication puts a brake on the economic and social development, and also artistic and cultural development, of these countries, by excluding them from the world movement of exchanges. If numerous cybercafés have opened in the large towns of Africa during the past few years, this means a simple consumption-fascination with the Internet, limited to navigation on the Web, messages, games, or downloading music. The use of digital tools has hardly been developed at all. The African countries produce very little content and very little technology, and find themselves in a position of being passive consumers of products (contents, software) manufactured elsewhere.