currently researching african animation : interested in compiling a database of practitioners in various sub-saharan countries : welcome any postings from practitioners

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

WAGE 2015, Gaming in Lagos Nigeria

On the 29th - 31st October, the West African Gaming Expo (WAGE) hosted a number of different players in and around the gaming industry and related educational fields at Pinefield School in Lekki, Lagos.

Spread across two days, the event included specialised lectures and presentations given around the technology, and the specific hurdles and obstacles that are faced with this regional context. Some presentations included a focus upon local content such as Geniigames - and their educational games that promotes local language and culture, and representative Zuibar Abubakar from Chopup games on wider perspectives on game development. 

With game developers as young as 10 years old, the Centre4Tech showcased the outcomes from their summer camps that run with young children and adolescents interested in this field. Their attendance also included presentations on gaming and the projects that their organisation offers. 

The event also included showcasing different hardware, including the OculusRift and Google VR set Cardboard.

And there was also room for fun where delegates and attendees played their favourite games.

One other great find at the event was making the acquaintance of Tolu from the Podcast Channel, Tao of Otaku, where you can find regular podcasts of '
African perspectives on comics, video games, tv shows, anime and all things geeky'.

The WAGE website was redesigned in 2016 and can now be viewed at:

Below is an article I wrote for the website on local content in 2015.

The subject of local content for local audiences has been an ongoing concern within different post-colonial spaces as there remains an inevitable engagement with the discourses on hegemony and dominant cultural brokers in the field of animation, film, games and popular entertainment at large. Therefore when WAGE2015 (West African Gaming Expo, Lagos) introduced the themed focus on ‘local’ production in gaming in West Africa, this discussion was bound to arise across a range of aspects within this field, whether in the context of infrastructure, production (artistic and technical), distribution or exhibition.

How can different parties negotiate these tensions in a transnational context of production and distribution? Global players in the market increasingly appear to be ‘setting up shop’ across different countries outside of the West, establishing studios and creative hubs. Furthermore their market dominance would suggest that they are favourably positioned as ‘trend-setters’. A counter narrative to this is to be found in the utopian views of Web 2.0, that technological moment that heralded in a new wave of ‘prod-users’ who were/are able to upload their films and animations on YouTube or develop and sell their apps in this global marketplace (Bruns, 2006). Still one may argue this vision belies the continued difficulties that independent producers face. Somewhere in the midst of this minefield of discourses I interjected with a small window onto a handful of African animation/multi-media artists who move within these transnational spaces and in a cosmopolitan sense presenting work that re-frames the ‘exotic’ to different audiences.

These artists appropriate an aesthetic, narrative, and form that stems from range of spaces (real and virtual). Their content resonates with local audiences who are able to recognize the motifs and excite foreign audiences who view these images as different, other and exotic. The term ‘exotic’ is not without its own historical and problematic associations – and here I wish to propose that it is this precise 'othering' quality that these artists are capitalizing upon, turning the table so to speak, to re-present versions of content that can be viewed and enjoyed by a range of audiences across different contexts albeit for different reasons. Artists like Nigeria’s own Ebele Okoye or Kenneth Coker who work and live between Africa and Europe or the US, are constantly creating work that whilst greatly inspired by Yoruba mythology, as one example, can also incorporate motifs from North African architecture in sci-fi worlds with a cast of characters that look like they belong alongside any of the Marvel crew. Kenneth (Shof) Coker’s recent kickstarter project was made in collaboration with his siblings Shobo and Funola Coker. ‘Outcasts of Jupiter’ ( is a graphic novel that is set in the future with a cast of characters befitting a sci-fi context. The drawings collapse unusual elements together by illustrating the familiar ‘exotic’ spaces of dying and tanning pits on rooftops in Fez in Morocco, for example, alongside technologies that could be easily placed in retro-futuristic American sci-fi.  This combination of different aesthetic references facilitates resonances with different readers/viewers, and importantly as Coker has articulated many times it recasts a range of African characters, whether it is Abdullah captain of the Caliph’s guard, the astrophysicist Persio, or the powerful Denari designed ‘as a man of Afar ancestry, a descendant once of the Kush Empire in Northern Africa’ (Coker, 2013) each equally different in physical appearance and garb. Kenneth Coker has also produced earlier animated work that presented similar exotic appeal. The CGI (computer generated imagery) animations Oni Ise Owo (2008), and Iwa (2009) both provide further evidence of this recontexualization of myth and aesthetic forms that stem from different places/ spaces (  . 

These new configurations of ‘local’ content offer a way to conceive of content development that is not determined by the “Us” and “Them” model, but instead one the engages with different aesthetic conventions and genres to enable the work to travel to, from and across trans-national spaces. One strong example of this repositioning of ‘local’ content can be identified in the work of the Kenyan multi-media artists/ musicians/ animators known as Just a Band. Their work gained visibility through online exhibition and distribution of their music and videos. For their music video Inwiyo Piny (2008) the viewer is confronted with a collage of urban photographic scenes in Nairobi and illustrated characters that stylistically reminiscent of the Gorillaz characters culminating in a surreal sequence with a flying tortoise and deejay, intercut with scene that could sit within a manga anime. ( However, the music video that they would become most famous for was Ha-He (2010). The video went viral clocking over 657,000 views on YouTube with memes, associated online activity on social networking sites and spin off websites. This Kenyan take on American Blaxplotation films from the 1970’s presents Makmede as the superhero ‘bad-ass’ that saves the day. ‘Makmende’ was so popular he even garnered his own Wikipedia entry. More importantly whilst the video has strong aesthetic references to the American 1970’s B-movies it includes strong cues to its Kenyan context. This unique positioning resonated with Kenyan online users/viewers within Kenya and the diaspora as they related to the specific references to Makmende, and simultaneously a transnational audience could recognize the genre that this was alluding to. ( ).

It is also worth pointing readers to the artist Jim Chuchu, who was a member of the band, who has subsequently gone off to make his own work as digital artist and director. His own short films include, HomeComing  (2013) and To Catch a Dream (2014) ( These films reconfigure stereotypical representations of Africa, within the science fiction or Afro-Futurist genre or through the surreal lens of dreamscapes that bring together cosmopolitan urbanites with mythical characters. This reimagining of Kenyan space and narrative aligns well with other transnational films that are ‘accented’ with elements from different places, urban/rural, real/virtual and times past/ present/future (Naficy, 2001). And whilst these examples are manifest within film or animation, it is worth reflecting upon how games developers across the continent could look towards recognizing these formats in there own work. One recent example of this in practice can be found in the work of the Kenyan animator (and game developer) Andrew Kaggia and his move from the political animation in 3D CGI Waguezi 2012 (2011) to the game NairobiX  (2015) ( Kaggia’s animation referenced different cultural motifs, in this case re-presenting Kenyan politicians as Transformers that race and battle through an urban landscape pre-empting the then incumbent elections. Later in his game NairobiX Kaggia uses the city of Nairobi as his game world where players move through a post-apocalyptic space shooting aliens. 

All of the examples I provided can of course be met with a critique or scrutiny of the ‘authenticity’ of their work. People may examine how closely they align with the individual narratives, or motifs, and local contexts. They may question the players that are involved in some capacity with the development, production and distribution of these forms. Any adaptation or change to these could be construed as a corruption of the heritage or cultural context that inspired the work. These opinions call for the need for artists to align themselves with certain local themes and to do so exclusively. However perhaps it is important to move away from essentialist positions that pre-suppose that these artists resort to exclusionary devices of either one or the other, and simply recognize that in today’s contemporary spaces, real and virtual, transnational productions are the becoming more commonplace. Developers, artists and digital media creatives are more adept and likely to engage with a range of media that stem from different contexts, and therefore perhaps we should not be surprised when they are able to combine these influences with other aesthetic motifs that could sit easily within discussions on Yoruba mythology, Ghanaian fertility dolls, and Tanzanian popular art such as Tinga Tinga painting.

Bruns, A. (2006), ‘Towards Produsage: Futures for User-Led Content Production’ in F. Sudweeks, and H. Hrachovec, C. Ess, (eds.), Proceedings Cultural
Attitudes towards Communication and Technology 2006, Estonia, pp. 275-284.

Callus, P. (2012), ‘Reading Animation through the Eyes of Anthropology: A Case Study of sub-Saharan African Animation’ in Animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 113-130.

Huggan, G. (2001), The Post-Colonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins, London: Routledge.

Naficy, H. (2001), An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Oxford:
Princeton University Press.

No comments: