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Regional Arts Programme

Ralph Borland: “building regional connections and sharing creative work”

ANT Tales is a series in which we catch up with past ANT Mobility Fund recipients to find out how this support impacted their work and professional pathway.

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African Robots is a project to catalyse innovation in street wire art in Southern Africa, and produce original artworks for exhibition by introducing cheap interactive electronics to wire artists. Led by South African artist, designer and curator Ralph Borland, the project functions as a ‘critical design’ study that imagines alternative futures through fictional artefacts. It empowers independent wire artists through expanding their knowledge and skills. The project plays on the ‘viral’ way in which new designs are proliferated amongst street wire artists; and as a large number of street wire artists in South Africa are from Zimbabwe, it engages with existing cross-border movements of art and culture, and inquires into the experience of migrant artists in South Africa. It both imagines and attempts to bring into being new cultural and technological connections.

I first received ANT Mobility funding in 2015, right at the start of my African Robots project, a collaboration with street wire artists in Southern Africa. This funding and support allowed me to bring the project from Cape Town to the Harare International Festival of the Arts, where I ran workshops with wire artists, hacking cheap electronic toys I had bought in Brazil into new interactive wire art pieces devised in collaboration with wire artists in Harare.

I took the work I did at HIFA to London later that year, exhibiting it at a British Council Maker Library in collaboration with London art and technology firms Hirsch&Mann and Tech Will Save Us, thanks to funding from the SA-UK Connect scheme.

I next received ANT funding for African Robots in 2019, taking the project to the FEIMA market in Maputo, where I ran a week-long workshop with wire artists, wood crafters, and a pair of young engineering graduates, in collaboration with technology for development firm UX Maputo. 

The ANT Mobility funding programme for cross-border collaboration has been particularly useful and appropriate to my work with African Robots, which has a Pan-African focus at building regional connections and sharing creative work in the realm of wire art, a vernacular practice rooted in children’s practices in making wire cars, and later a means of income for wire artists. Wire artists in South Africa are often from Zimbabwe, and in the markets of Maputo there is a mix of nationalities. This funding allowed the project to transcend borders.