19th – 21st June 2019 is going to be a time to remember in the history of global conversations on culture. More than 70 nationalities gathered in a cultural symposium, organized by the Goethe Institut, to reflect, discuss, present and experiment on the future of us in terms of culture, politics, economy, and all other aspects of life that we can imagine.
To me being in Weimar, home of Wolfgang von Goethe- one of the most celebrated early visionaries of Germany at the time of Renaissance, was a reminder that every once in a while it’s important to sit with forward thinkers, have a good listen, engage, exchange. It’s been a pleasure and honor to be a part of some of these conversations. There was a lot to watch, to see, to listen to, to feel, to experiment in so many ways. From animal behavior science discussions to robotics performances, through many panel discussions, everything seemed to question where we are, how we got in this position, how we interact with space, matter and time. Some presentations were more captivating than others but through it all, every interaction was a learning experience.
As to the why was the conversation happening in Germany, the answer is pretty simple. Goethe Institut made it happen. A better question to me is why aren’t these conversations happening in Africa? I know some will say it’s lack of resources but I beg to differ. When you see how much champagne is popped at gala nights or how much is spent on our politicians’ travels, I can’t help but say it’s lack of will. It’s not even about money per se. When is the last time, five cultural entrepreneurs gathered in a conversation about the future of culture and the arts in your home town? Being in Weimar was another realization that as long as we do not engage with the topic, our own future will be decided for us. And when that happens, we’ll have to adjust to our new “fate” just as we have been struggling to adjust to forced transitions from monarchy to colonial occupation and forced democracies. So what to do? Re-calculate the route. This was the theme of this year’s symposium. It’s about putting into considerations global perspectives (utopian, dystopian) from cultural entrepreneurs but these are the people who interact directly with the masses using a multitude of tools and skills to communicate, learn, understand.
Artificial Intelligence was the talk. It might seem like a new trend but the subject has been in my eyes since late nineties when I moved into a home that had a television. ET, Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, Demolition Man, etc. Also literature such as Brave New World, 1984, and music and dance. All these are cultural products that have been preparing us about the world we live in now. Yet we still act surprised when Sophia says she does not like how humans treat her like a slave! Hint, hint! In one of my poem I Am Hip Hop, there is a line that I now skip or tweak during my performances. It goes like “I’m anti AI, pro-recycle.” When I meditate on it, I realize that it came from a place of ignorance, trauma and fear of the unknown or maybe I have been programmed this way growing up to Cyborg, Terminator, The Matrix trilogy and now hooked to Black Mirror. However when I look deeper, it’s not just me or us. It’s about everything that has made us who we are today. Some of us are strong because we have survived events that mean did not and every scar (especially the emotional ones) carry a traumatic story. It’s with that story that we look to the future. The need to change the world does not come from a happy place. And I say that’s ok. It’s good to DO something about circumstances we are not happy about. We can think about them, we can act on them, we can talk about them… before you know it, you realize we share the same fears, the same hopes and by talking we find each other. At the end of the day, any event that occurs anywhere in the world affects the entire world across time.
Sometimes we talk about the future so much we forget that today is yesterday’s future. Now, is it as you imagined it? Did you imagine anything? I am not even talking about planning. I can go on and on with the questions but for now, I will let you imagine because it is the preview of everything. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Much of appreciation to Goethe Institut Kigali for supporting my travels and stay in Weimar and for the connections.