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A new way forward for African art and technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Conversations around technology and creativity in relation to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will take centre stage at the upcoming UJ Futures and Beyond Forum. Creative Feel spoke with UJ Arts & Culture and Andani.Africa to find out more about these urgent and exciting conversations.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us. Now more than ever, we’re seeing a need for more skills and investment in science and technology as we step into the next stage of Africa’s development. Crucially, it is also the role of our creative and cultural industries to help lead the conversation around creative and critical ways of harnessing and utilising technology.
     In an effort to better make sense of the role of creative industries, the creative economy, and art within 4IR, UJ Arts & Culture and Andani.Africa have teamed up to host the inaugural Futures & Beyond Forum, planned for 16 and 17 March 2021. The first of its kind in Africa, the Forum is a gathering of leading minds in the arts and 4IR, and aims to start a conversation about creative industries in the continent’s future and the development of Africa-led strategies for creativity and innovation in technology.

Making sense of the Fourth Industrial Revolution through art and creativity

For many, 4IR remains unknown territory, and a level of fear and uncertainty is something that Lakin Morgan-Baatjies, Marketing Manager for UJ Arts & Culture, says is prevalent when it comes to conversations about 4IR and the creative industries. Art and creativity, she explains, are crucial components when it comes to making sense of it all.

University of Johannesburg UJ Arts & Culture covid 19 response pandemic 2020
Head of Marketing for UJ Arts & Culture, Lakin Morgan-Baatjies PHOTO Meghan McCabe Photography

‘It’s daunting, and that’s something that we can’t ignore. If you look, throughout history, at all of the first industrial revolutions, there was a major amount of fear that surrounded them – what comes next? From the research and the findings, it all shows us that the fear of replacing the human was always there which I think is interesting,’ says Morgan-Baatjies. ‘At Futures and Beyond, we’re looking to have the conversation of what this means for us as creatives, without taking a side of being for or against technology. It’s to understand the playing field and how technology will impact us, but also understanding that creativity, imagination and the arts is still very much a human thing that can be facilitated by technology. So it’s understanding what technology means, how technology can be used, and where do we, as people feeding into the creative economy, fit into all of it.’
     Partnering with UJ Arts & Culture on the Futures and Beyond Forum is Andani.Africa, a research, strategic advisory, and content engagement company formed in 2016 out of the need to address the knowledge gap that exists in understanding the Creative and Cultural Industries in Africa.
     Director of Andani.Africa, Lonwabo Mavuso echoes Morgan-Baatjies’ sentiments about the lack of knowledge and certainty around 4IR, and explains that the Forum is not only a chance to contextualise the South African creative economy in relation to 4IR, but also an opportunity to extend the conversation to the rest of Africa, and take ownership of the continent’s narrative. 

 ‘We know from the report that was done by the president’s 4IR commission that the creative economy is identified as one of the key drivers of 4IR. So there is certainly a recognition of the importance of this sector and its potential for innovation and for creating and contributing to the discourse. We’re seeing this platform as a space to explore these ideas, but also to have continental conversations to understand what this really means for us. We hear about 4IR all the time, but this is a moment to pause and reflect, to investigate and find a space for creatives so that they can also take ownership of their narrative.’

Director of Andani.Africa, Lonwabo Mavuso

Leading with creative innovation in a connected Africa

For Mavuso, Africa is in a unique position when it comes to technology and creativity, and the Futures and Beyond Forum provides an opportunity to identify an original way forward for the continent, while crafting its own narrative.

Lonwabo Mavuso
Lonwabo Mavuso

‘Certainly for South Africa we are needing to close the digital and technological divide, and I think that because of the set of challenges that faces the African continent, we need to think differently around the application of technology,’ he explains. ‘There’s talk about the plans of building infrastructure, building roads, but if we had to think differently as a continent and had to apply the opportunities that the technology provides us then why, for example, would we need a road leading somewhere when there’s drone technology that can deliver to different locations? So, in actual fact, I think that Africa may very well skip some of those revolutions that other parts of the world have gone through and leap-frog itself into the future. I think it’s through conversations like the ones we’ll be having at the Forum where we’ll reflect collectively and think about how we start to position Africa in a slightly different way to the rest of the world.’

Urgent, exciting, and accessible conversations

With the Futures and Beyond Forum being a free-to-attend event, UJ Arts & Culture and Andani.Africa are hoping to extend the conversation across disciplines and locations as much as possible.

‘What I’m looking forward to is talking about this idea of ethics around technology, the creative industries and art,’ says Mavuso. ‘In the Forum, we have a discussion around ethics and technology and the idea of Ubuntu – talking about that within the technology and 4IR space and within the art space.’
     Already, the Forum is receiving registrations from across the globe, and aims to become a platform for continued conversation that builds on the research and findings generated from these conversations in a collaborative and accessible way.
     ‘This isn’t a once off thing, we’re going to continue to have this conversation and see where it leads, and we are going to support the findings of that,’ explains Morgan-Baatjies. ‘So, if we need to help systemically push conversations around policy change to make it easier for artists on the African continent to work in a smarter, more streamlined, cross-continental, and financially sound way that’s aided by technology, then I want to be part of that conversation, and we want to be part of that conversation. I hope everyone will join us. We were very deliberate in ensuring that access was not a barrier to this. If you can be there, we want you there.’

The inaugural Futures & Beyond Forum is a free online forum live from the UJ Arts Centre on 16 and 17 March 2021. Registration is now open on www.arts.uj.ac.za.

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