Interview with Marion Louisgrand, coordinator of Kër Thiossane (Dakar/Sénégal)

Artfactories: How does the Kër Thiossane space see itself in relation to Dakar, Senegal, the whole of Africa, and at international level?

Marion Louisgrand: Nowadays, in a culturally rich and abundantly creative country like Senegal, and at a time of globalisation, the formerly rural society has become an urban one, and creative people, especially young creators, want to be on the same wavelength as the planetary village, its interrogations, and different forms of expression. But frontiers between north and south still exist, and young African artists still have difficulties in obtaining access to new technologies (multimedia, video, sound), whether it be for creative purposes or simply getting their work known outside their own country.
If Senegal is without doubt one of the African countries best equipped with information technology, after South Africa, nevertheless most of the internet access points open to the public are in cyber cafés, whose services are limited to simple Internet access, consultation and sending of e-mail, games…or word processing, fax.
At the level of graphic creation, there is no infrastructure available today that enables artists to get used to new technologies, not even computer graphics. During the "DakaArt 2002" biennale, when one of the principal themes was art and multimedia, numerous Senegalese artists remarked that even the National School of Arts could not offer an alternative in this particular domain.

The appropriation of new technologies and new forms of digital culture by young Senegalese creators therefore necessitates the support and collaboration of different organs and associations in Africa and Europe, in particular to facilitate the equipment, connection and access to technical competence over the long term.

It is precisely to this challenge that the young, recently created Ker Thiossane organisation wishes to reply.

Kër Thiossane, a new space, working in the domain of the arts and multimedia, officially opened its doors in September 2003, with the support of the Canadian Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and New Technologies. Based in a villa of about 150m2 and situated in the Sicap Liberté II neighbourhood in Dakar, this space is dedicated to social and artistic innovation in the field of culture and communication. Kër Thiossane addresses itself to artists by encouraging the integration of multimedia into their artistic practices - music, dance, theatre, and visual arts, and to the public in general, by making culture and digital creation available through informatics and new information and communication technology. In this way, artists in general, and young African artists in particular, who have difficulties with access to new technologies will soon find support for their creation, advice on ideas, training in creative software, initiation into network practices, help with the creation of websites, and thematic workshops at Kër Thiossane.

A centre for training and initiation into multimedia, Kër Thiossane, also sees itself as an organisation for social development, open to the local public, giving priority to women, young people and children. Through a large range of activities, Kër Thiossane aims to enable a larger public, often unused to contemporary art, to discover art and multimedia.
Through events open to all, organised in a framework other than that of a museum or traditional exhibitions, Kër Thiossane wishes to create relationships with art and multimedia of a different kind.
According to the projects to be developed and the relevant disciplines, Kër Thiossane aims to work in partnership with local cultural structures such as the National School of Arts, Group 30, Kaay Fecc, Africa Fete, and also with public structures such as schools, the Blaise Senghor space, or the Douta Seck Cultural Centre. As a new type of multimedia cultural space in Africa, Ker Thiossane is a pilot project that could be heard of in other regions in Africa. In the future, Ker Thiossane wants to intensify its partnerships with other structures in Africa, in further developing artists, groups and know-how exchange, and partnerships all over Africa. Kër Thiossane sets great store by building bridges between Africa and the Mediterranean, two regions that for different reasons (historic, economic, geographic) have had difficulties in establishing exchanges.
In its capacity as the African antenna of Artfactories, Kër Thiossane takes on the task of identifying other independent cultural initiatives on the African continent and of developing a network between them.
In the framework of the next Contemporary Art Biennale at Dakar in May 2004, Kër Thiossane is organising, in collaboration with the Artfactories international resources office, a seminar to be held from 11 to 14 May 2004 for emerging culture spaces on the African continent (North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Africa, and southern Africa).

On the international level, Kër Thiossane wishes to develop a permanent link with other artistic centres in other regions of the world (Europe, Asia, America), by installing a space for exchange through contemporary art.

A: What is the recent artistic news of Kër Thiossane?

M: Since 2002, and before the opening of the centre, Kër Thiossane began its outside activities with the setting up of a workshop with students from the National Arts School and the Russian artist Olga Kisseleva, the creation of a multimedia report with children and the accompaniment of some artistic projects.
On the occasion of its official opening, in September 2003, Kër Thiossane also organised, on its own premises, two workshops on awareness of multimedia through digital creation: one on cyber sculpture and 3D creation, and the other on interactive dance, also a debate with the artistic community of Dakar on the priorities of the NTIC for African contemporary creation.

At the moment, apart from the daily activities of the centre gradually being set up, such as short training modules, the documentation centre, the accompaniment of artistic projects, and programmes reserved for children, gradually being set up, a number of ad hoc workshops have been foreseen for 2004.

Amongst these projects, in the framework of a fashion festival organised for the beginning of May in Dakar, Kër Thiossane will be holding a workshop for young Senegalese stylists centred on textile creation through multimedia. The young creator Marietou Kandji, graduate of the Decorative Arts School, Paris, and UNESCO prizewinner, will be presenting during one week work on materials, colours and forms on specialised software such as Point Carré, or others more accessible like Photoshop.
During the Dakar Arts Biennale, also in May 2004, another workshop - this time in the musical domain - will be organised on deejaying and veejaying, in partnership with the French multimedia cultural space Arslonga, organisers of the famous Parisian "Metalomix" evenings, bringing together plastic artists, musicians, deejays, veejays, short film makers, etc.
Over a period of ten days, five French artists will meet and exchange with Senegalese musicians and plastic artists. During the day, artists will animate training workshops on record mixing, initiation into image mixing and digital photography, and information technology-internet, whilst in the evening live communal performances will take place in different areas of Dakar, to enrich and also to mark the end of this intercultural seminar.
Also during the Biennale, but separate from the seminar, organised from 11 to 14 May in collaboration with Artfactories on emerging cultural centres on the African continent, Ker Thiossane is inviting the multimedia creator Philippe Monvaillier of the Office à Pointe Noire. With the participation of Senegalese artists (story-tellers, musicians, plastic artists) he will create two interactive installations recently presented in a Brazzaville neighbourhood: the "Cyberfetiche" and the "Sanzationnnel".

All during the seminar, Kër Thiossane will also be the public resource point on the question of new cultural centres deriving from citizens’ artistic projects in different parts of the world: the Artfactories website on-line, videos presenting projects and centres, documentation…It will also be the space where all participants can leave their documentation.

Other workshops touching on different artistic disciplines will be available throughout the year, in order to enable Senegalese artists to discover an innovative approach to new technologies through the artistic act: at the time of the first workshops centred on digital sculpture, a new training course animated by Christian Lavigne of the Toile Métisse association - Ars Mathématica - will enable African artists to go further than a simple 3D creation. Sculptors, designers, painters, and graphic artists…the participants will learn to animate objects in a virtual space. Another workshop will be addressed to writers, journalists and poets, and centred on hypertext writing and digital poetry.
Certain projects are envisaged for children, in particular the "Kaleidoscope Museum", with several schools from Dakar and its suburbs, the Senegalese painter Kalidou Kassé and the Museum of Ifan.

A: On a daily basis, how does Ker Thiossane function? M: Ever since its official opening in September 2003, Kër Thiossane has efficiently been able to measure the extent of the expectations and needs of artists and young people with regard to new technologies in the domain of creation, education and culture.

Following the inauguration day on 19 September 2003, comprising an artistic exhibition, presentation of the results of workshops, and a debate on the priorities of the NTIC for contemporary African creation, requests for information, membership, and training on the part of the artistic community have not ceased to multiply.
Satisfied with this demand, Kër Thiossane is nevertheless aware that at this stage of events, its human and material capacities are still fragile as compared to the extent of expectations, and that it is only in the long term that Kër Thiossane will be able to reach its objectives. It will take three years; 2004 will represent a year of reinforcement of the project, whilst 2005 and 2006 will be the years of development and extension of the structure and its objectives.
At the present time, faced with the inflow of requests, internal regulations, a membership system and a planning structure have been defined.
At the moment, the activity of the centre is still limited. A gallery of artists is being set up and will soon be on line, so that the artists Kër Thiossane has chosen to accompany will have a certain visibility on the web.

Modified on Monday 26 January 2004