STOCKTOWN: Documenting and Digitizing Today’s African Art

Story by TAYLOR EDELHART

Back in February, our Talk Party for that month included the Ghana premiere of two short films on contemporary + futuristic African art today — one focusing on Kenya, the other on Angola — produced by filmmaking duo Teddy Goitom and Benjamin Taft. Teddy, also the founder of Swedish video curatorial website Stocktown, and Ben are currently gathering footage for a series of films on the art scenes of four more African countries, including Ghana. All this data will become part of Afripedia.com, a new “visual Wikipedia” for today’s African art and a collaboration point for African artists across the continent and diaspora. I met with Teddy and Ben to discuss their work, their inspirations, and what they’re up to next. 

 

Cyrus, a visual artist from Kenya who is profiled in one of the films.

Cyrus, a visual artist from Kenya who is profiled in one of the films.

ADA: Could you tell me a little bit about Stocktown and how the two of you met and began working on this project?

TG: Stocktown has been a cultural platform since 1998. It started out doing exactly what you guys are doing — events, music, exhibitions, and later on during early 2000 we began documenting other creatives. Me and Benjamin actually met at MTV. I was working as a freelance producer. We discussed this project about going to Africa to do stories not only about music but what’s going on in the arts and film areas, everything that we’re interested in we wanted to reach out and try to find.

 

ADA: Where did your interest in African art begin?

TG: My origins are from Ethiopia and Eritrea, but I never grew up there. So, of course, I’m interested in what’s happening in my country but also what’s happening around Africa. I was always interested because I never saw that information. All of the media, especially the Western media, was only stories about war and starvation. Since we didn’t have that channel to feed us with what’s happening in Africa, we wanted to find it ourselves.

Titica, Angola's biggest Kuduro star and the first transsexual artist to ever become a celebrity there.

Titica, Angola’s biggest Kuduro star and the first transsexual artist to ever become a celebrity there.

ADA: What’s been the most challenging part of putting together Afripedia and these documentaries?

BT: I guess the most challenging part would be finding funding and balancing the work on this project with commercial projects. You start to almost lose hope in terms of, “Are we ever going to finish this? Are we going to put this out?” You feel a responsibility to bring it out but you also feel a responsibility towards paying your rent.

TG: I don’t have so much to add there. It’s funding, basically.

 

ADA: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned in the process of making these documentaries and this platform?

TG: Surprising… wow, that’s a hard question.

BT: I guess what’s surprising is that there are so many people out there in different African countries trying to do more or less what we’re doing but on a local level, and we’re getting a lot of positive response from these people because they’ve been trying to do this but they’ve also found it hard to connect with people in other countries who, perhaps, do the same thing. They could really benefit from exchanging ideas and being inspired by each other, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this project.

TG: What we want to do – Afripedia – it’s beyond the films. The films we see as a campaign towards a bigger goal of creating a visual Wikipedia where you can actually find creatives, connect with creatives, and bring together a bunch of creators from the African continent and outside who want to collect stories and people and have it in one place.

Reeburth, a heavy metal band from Soweto, South Africa.

Reeburth, a heavy metal band from Soweto, South Africa.

ADA: I know that you have other documentaries coming up, you have Afripedia coming up. Is there anything else beyond those two projects in the realm of putting African art into the world that you’re thinking about now?

TG: No. [laughter] This is our baby. The films have been a long journey, but we’re almost there. Afripedia is a longer journey, and I think it’s an infinite journey, because we want to create a platform with no deadline.

BT: I guess just to clarify, we used to call the films something else, but they also have the name Afripedia now, as well. It’s all one project with a common goal, where the online platform is a way to distribute the films and vice versa. Where the online platform can reach a certain kind of audience, the films can perhaps reach another one. Film is obviously a very compelling medium, which is one of the main reasons why we choose to work with it.

 

ADA: Other than Afripedia, are there any other social media sites that people should visit? Anything else you want to tell the readers of the blog?

TG: People should also visit Stocktown, which is a curated platform for YouTube clips from around the world. We have a network of 40 people who are finding and writing about YouTube clips, and you can categorize them by genre, by country. It’s also one of the sources where we find what’s going on in Africa through other creators. So definitely go visit that site.

Teddy and Ben’s documentaries will premiere in Sweden in March, and the films and Afripedia.com will be live and online soon. Until then, check out other films Teddy and Ben have curated about African art today at their Stocktown pages.

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