National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Dr Tegan Bristow 

For her contribution to the direction of the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival and leading development and research in the digital creative industry in Africa

Magic lies where culture and technology collide

Dr Tegan Bristow started her studies in art at Rhodes University, but one morning she accidentally walked into the wrong lecture hall, and ended up sitting in on a computer science class where students were demonstrating 2D games they had made as an exercise for the class. 

“It basically blew my mind and I developed a huge passion for technology, which changed my path forever,” Bristow says. “I became fascinated with the intersection of culture and technology, and after teaching the subject at Wits as a young academic I saw an enormous gap in scholarship and research on Africa’s cultural relationship to technology.” It was from there that she embarked on her PhD, in which she explored philosophies and cultures of technology both pre and post colonialism, with a focus on South Africa and Kenya.  

“It was at this time that I worked with Professor Doherty and Professor Dwolatzky to develop the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival and the work that surrounds it,” she says. 

Fak’ugesi is a joint project of the University of the Witwatersrand and the Tshimologong Innovation Precinct, which supports and develops multi-sector work in the digital creative industries in Africa. The project is a flagship on the continent and serves as a model and reference for regional and international organisations that support and develop the digital creative sector.

Such is its reach that the British Council named it the most important festival for art, culture and technology after commissioning an impact report. It emphasised the importance of this unique platform that advocates for sector sustainability and brings visibility to gaming, virtual reality, animation, and critical digital cultures on the African continent. 

“At its most fundamental level, I hope this work solidifies the importance of the intersection of culture and technology in Africa, not only in allowing for a socio-cultural criticality in technology, but to further a claim by African societies for the effective use of contemporary technologies,” she says. “I hope this lays a foundation for a future where already emergent forms such as Artificial Intelligence, data-led computing and other future constructs are in the service of African societies, not exploiting them and their resources,” Bristow says.

Over the next two years she will be leading a research and ecosystem development that focuses on developing intermediaries such as publishers, distributors, aggregators, markets and innovation entrepreneurs for the digital creative sectors in Africa. 

Beyond this work, she still has her passion for creative work and has an ongoing collaborative project titled “A School for Vernacular Algorithms”, which brings together maths and computing with cultural art forms such as music, beadwork and basketry in South Africa and beyond.

“I am very pleased that the NSTF has taken up the special theme of sustainability for the cultural and creative industries, as it is often an overlooked location for technology and the sciences,” she says. “I hope this focus will open up more opportunities both for cultural practitioners and the sciences going forward.” — Kerry Haggard

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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