Utopia = ‘An imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’. Last week I was in an African Utopia, but it was real! Once again I found myself on the banks of the River Thames at one of my favourite spots in South London – The Southbank Centre. It was the annual Africa Utopia festival and as I hadn’t attended since its 2012 inception, my ticket was booked in advance for 2014.
Spread over 4 days, I was only able to attend the finale of the festival, a large calabash of African art and ideas molding the world, highlighting how Africa changes the way we perceive culture, community, technology, fashion, sustainability and ethical wealth creation. I only have one (good) complaint – an oxymoron, I know; there was just too much! I wanted to go to every talk and every stall but had to painfully choose between what was on offer as many presentations ran in parallel.
I planned to start the day nice and early with the newspaper review hosted by Hannah Pool, curator of talks and debates at Africa Utopia but my timing wasn’t the best and I arrived just in time for the first workshop, the Asilia Africa Social Media Workshop. This interactive event was hosted by Lulu Kitololo, creative director of the digital design agency located in London and Narobi, Asilia. I learnt so much about how African themed businesses are using social media to get their message to the African diaspora and the rest of the world. It was at this workshop where I met two fellow bloggers @SylviaTheuri and @Yogibear; the former blogging about ‘Art, Literature and Culture outside the Western canon’ and the latter (among other things) about her journey in finding out about her African heritage, having a Caribbean background. This was one of the things I liked most about the festival; it wasn’t just about sitting in a room listening to people speak, but being able to network with the speakers and participants.
Africa’s revival is not just about one person setting the agenda but the collaboration of minds.
Dashing from one hall in the Southbank Centre to another, I was able to attend the African blogging workshop hosted by two passionate ladies, collectively known as ‘Styled By Africa’, helping to open the doors for African designers using their award winning online destination. Leaving with lots of tips and suggestions from their own experiences, I shimmied down the carpeted stairs to the food market, where I tucked into a nice Caribbean curry and rice.
Returning to the centre, I caught the end of the Africa and Urban Spaces discussion, answering the questions (among others):
- Who’s shaping Africa’s urban design?
- Who are some of the continents new architectural visionaries?
I couldn’t stay until the conclusion of the lively Q&A in the packed Green Room Bar and I went to my penultimate presentation of the day, in association with Africa Gathering. Young technology designers showcased an app which is being used to revolutionise how people on the continent are growing and selling crops – the Batanai Collaborative. I ended the day with Baaba Maal, the award winning Senegalese musician and international human rights campaigner, who gave valuable insights into activism on the continent by Africa’s youth.
All in all it was a fun day and I learnt a lot! I’ll have a hunt around on the Southbank website to see if I can locate the talks that I missed. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival and meeting interesting people who are taking the leap and lifting the continent within itself, among the diaspora and the world. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!
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Pictures: The Southbank Centre & Camilla Greenwell photography (featured image).