By Elena Feijoo
Photo by Marguerite Noëlle courtesy Teddy Goitom
August 4, 2016 Culture
— Issue 2
Despite the obstacle of connecting through a six-hour time difference, I hastily navigated the evening traffic of Berlin to chat with Stocktown Movement founder about his exciting new project, Afripedia, a platform for African creatives and the African diaspora to connect with a larger audience.
The aim, as Teddy describes it, is to offer African people a power over their own stories. Teddy Goitom isn’t new to the world of storytelling, creating his own documentary films and working with numerous other artists, directors, and filmmakers to share these relatively unheard stories to a global audience since he started Stocktown in his native country Sweden around the early 1990’s. After chatting about my Cape Verdean roots and a personal intrigue in his past works, we got to talk about what is going on with Stocktown, Afripedia, and Teddy Goitom now.
So, you are now in New York?
Yes, I moved to New York in September 2015 from Sweden. I was raised in Stockholm, but moved here with my colleagues to take part in the Incubator program at the New Museum for a year. We are here to develop the online platform Afripedia, an extension to the documentaries that we have made over the past years. We were invited to be part of the Incubator, which we think is great because we get a mass amount of support. It helps us understand everything from building a sustainable platform to a business plan, as well as being able to be in a creative environment, which is very important. We get to see other projects happening, you know, and meet other artists….
How many other artists are working simultaneously in the space at New Museum with you?
I think it’s about forty other projects, people working on everything- so there is a diverse group. To be in this environment, to see and to discuss other projects besides your own… It’s awesome. It’s like going back to school.
When was it that you launched Afripedia?
Well, we launched Afripedia in its full five part documentary series last September 2014. We are three filmmakers that have been working on this project since 2009. We started by producing a pilot and one episode at a time because we didn’t have any financing. We had difficulty finding TV channels and funding to jump on this project, so it became kind of a long process of research. It gave us a lot of time to do research. It was a process of understanding, figuring out what we want to investigate, and what it is that we want to tell.
It seems that you have been attempting to give a voice to a worldwide underground cultural scene for a while, first through Stocktown movement and now focusing on Afripedia…What drew you and your partners to make the shift and focus mostly on one continent?
We have always been interested in the idea of changing perspectives. I see myself and this project not so different from what we did in the early 2000’s with the music documentaries. Stocktown has always been the platform for us to bring new voices, but most of the content that we were shooting or gaining information on has been music focused. But now, it’s not only music. To give all artists a voice has always been a necessity. It seems like the right time now because we have more access to information online, but it has always been a necessity.
I am half Ethiopian and half Eritrean, and so is my partner. We wondered what other stories were out there that we weren’t looking at, because we did music documentaries on the underground movement but never on the continent. We also felt/feel like “how about the film scene, and photographers?”.
We wanted to try to broaden our own perspectives, and to find out what’s going on in those scenes, so it came mostly out of our own interest. We felt like we wanted to just continue to do what we have done before but also look into stories on these other disciplines. Stocktown.com as a platform is a source where people can write about online video clips, so we also got a lot of new videos that we hadn’t seen before from the continent that made us think “OK -here’s a lot of interesting research for us.” We started to contact filmmakers, photographers and directors, and that is how we started out, just contacting people on the scene.
Is this the process of finding and picking artists to feature in your films? What kind of characteristics attracts you to certain people or groups?
There is not a template, but we want to find DIY persons who are changing our perspectives through art, music, or film. Artists who also want to be part of the global world. Artists interested in what could change locally but also have something to say that we can relate to. We have only been looking at some few artists, but there are so many others that we don’t even know about. Not saying that we have just been lucky, but there is something about timing. Through discussing it with people on the scene, who maybe have more access to bloggers or someone who is creating events, or involved in a particular scene, we can discuss what it is that we are looking for and they can give us some selections, saying “here are some artists you should talk to”. It is also about chemistry, you know, finding artists that also go through the camera. Artists who want to share their story and understand our mission. We feel that giving individuals power to the narrative presented is very much needed. Often when we see anything on Africa, we think to ourselves, how do we change that narrative?
We believe it as simple as giving people the possibility to tell their own stories because “the story” is always told by others. If there is anything going on, someone else (from the outside) comes down and becomes the narrator. Then you have the actual people in the background, then it seems like the focus is being taken away from the main person/people to tell the story. That was one of the difficulties of getting funding. One of the TV channels thought that maybe the project could be financed if we had a guy, specifically a westerner, who could come down to Africa and play a sort of collaborator role, but these ideas and suggestions come from the perception that the audience in the West and Europe cannot relate to Africa. I felt that was really strange, but we just kept on doing our work as we wanted to do it. Online was a huge motivator because, as we started to put out trailers and short clips, more people wanted us to finish this project and asked us when it would be done. We got really stressed (laughs). So, we said OK lets do it.
I was about to give up two or three years ago. We pitched the project in front of several TV channels and we are told that maybe these sorts of images are not the kind that sells, but how can you even talk like that?
I was going to say that is interesting, but really it is mostly depressing.
It has been kind of depressing in a way. When you hear that, you don’t know really where to go. That is also part of the reason we took a long time, because at first we had to produce it all ourselves. Eventually we got a Swedish channel on board but really they just licensed the films. They aren’t in the production necessarily; they just pay when it’s finished. Anyway, that opened up an opportunity to get funding from a cultural fund in Sweden, so we at last got the funding to produce two more films.
I remember seeing in one of the films that having access to the internet is still a privilege in their country and many other African countries. How do you imagine rectifying that issue with this platform, which seems to rely so heavily on being able to get on and participate via the web?
Yeah, that is one of the greatest challenges and we need to have that dialogue with creatives on the continent about what it is like locally. We are actually going to Rwanda and Ethiopia to do interviews and conduct workshops all in an effort to get to a better understanding. Can we make a platform where people can also access content offline? Although, people are using mobiles and access to the Internet is growing. I still think we also need to find alternative solutions. This isn’t just an online project; it is also about how Afripedia can be an educational tool. I love the concept of show and tell, where people can discuss their works and be able to create their own environment. But yes, Internet access is different from country to country. What it comes to is that it is a challenge, but not one we can’t overcome. We don’t have a straight solution, but we are listening to what people say and how people can create alternative solutions.
What you just said makes me think about oral histories, and how people have always found ways to share and define their stories.
So you said you are getting ready to travel to Rwanda?
Yeah, we are getting ready to travel next week to Rwanda and to meet creatives there that are on the scene. We want to present Afripedia and discuss all these questions. How can it be a better creative platform for the people in African countries? We want to share and get ideas on how to start off this project. So yeah, we are traveling to Rwanda and Ethiopia to do our first workshops.
Do you have a favorite story from any of your various projects?
Whoa, haha, favorite stories? Noella Wiyaala from Ghana is a one of my favorites. We actually didn’t get to meet her before we travelled to Ghana. It was arranged through her manager and we had very little time in Ghana so we didn’t know what to expect when we met her. At that point we had only saw a music video with her, but the moment we arrived to her place and she opened the door you just felt that energy…this is going to be a good one. This is going to be a really good story. You just get a sense, when you meet a person, of the energy they have. It is one of the stories that people, after seeing the film, come up to us and say “Hey, what am I doing with my life? I want to get together and be creative.” People often tell us that they now want to go to Ghana and I think her story is that interesting.
Noella comes from the northern part of Ghana. She always wanted to be an artist but it was hard for her to be an artist there. Just being a woman in the northern part of Ghana, of course her father wasn’t that supportive and they just don’t see art as something you can live on, but she won this sort of Idol competition. She talks about her mom being her biggest supporter and how she wants to give back to her mom. That’s the way she told the story, so it was really an inspiration. Many women can grasp that.
There are so many other stories. Another one is a Kenyan 3D artist named Andrew Kaggia. The first time we saw his work was online with a viral transformer film that was just a beautiful piece. There was a short interview that he made himself where he talks about how he made that film and we said, “Wow. We have to meet this guy”.
So we went to his home in Nairobi. He had this small room with a lot of computers and he told us how he pays more in electricity than rent because he is always rendering all this footage. He is also disabled in one of his fingers, so he usually works with one hand… and that is how he made this film. He is self taught, learned from youtube tutorials. It was amazing to see someone who knows no boundaries. That is really inspiring. Sadly, many people don’t believe Kenyan artists have the ability to do such a film. You can see that on all the Youtube comments, people just couldn’t believe it. There are a lot of interesting stories, but those two might be the most memorable.
Do you already have new artists in mind for the next installments of the series?
For the next films, we have just thought of places that we want to go. Nigeria has been on our radar quite a lot. It seems like at all our film screenings there are always Nigerians saying “Why are you not doing something in Nigeria?”. We haven’t decided yet exactly which artists or exactly which countries we are going to feature but we are now starting to do the research. We have been very busy working on the platform, but we also have a lot of content that we haven’t released yet. Stuff that we didn’t have the time to edit, so I would say that one of our next steps is to release the platform in September. I hope we have the beta version up and then we can activate curators to join and we can show the type of content that is going to be shared. We want to visually stimulate.
What would you say is at the heart of Afripedia?
The goal at the end is figuring out how we can develop jobs for African creators. There is such a low representation of Africans in the (creative) industry. I think we need to become more visible, then we can unify. I think there is an opportunity here where companies and institutions can get access to find and actually hire these creators. It is already happening now.
There is an artist in the Ghana episode, his name is Serge Attukwei Clottey but he performs under his alter ego, Afrogallonism. He wears these yellow masks, talks about the social environment and uses performance as a tool to explain his ideas. So, one art agent in LA saw the trailer, contacted him, and he had an exhibition here in NY about three weeks ago. We also get requests almost every week from some company or art institution. It’s coming from a lot of different fields, and all this feedback is from films that we haven’t even released yet. What would happen if we would get more curators to join in, to share their network and what they are doing online.
So yes, I truly believe that there are opportunities for these artists to seek jobs and for companies to find artists. The lack of a network has been an issue, no one knows where to start. If Afripedia could be just one of those platforms, that would be fantastic. We will see. This is the vision we have. We have to start somewhere.