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Good afternoon. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech. Currently, My research examines the concept of ‘techno-vernacular creativity’ by employing a hybrid, action-centered research strategy to demonstrate how underrepresented minorities (URMs) –Black American, Chicano, Indigenous and women –interact with material forms and affects of art and technology.
In general, cultural arts are multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and cross-genre. Cultural arts are less about definition and more about meaning and making sense of our current environment through an exploration of creativity and innovation.
In my research, I look for recurrent cultural practices in art and technology among underrepresented ethnic groups, as well as themes that illuminate these practices. This image shows the production cycle of artistic and cultural practices that reflect diverse influences and contexts. Artists manage their representations (images, sounds, systems) in mainstream society and the global world through creativity and innovation, and by using improvisation and re-appropriation to move beyond the limits of nationality or identity. We see these representations manifested again and again in ethnic culture.
In my research I am focusing on the creative and innovative practices of ethnic groups – Black American, Chicano, Indigenous and women –who are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). STEM + Art is STEAM which is a framework for teaching and learning across disciplines. This Wordle presents a sampling of the types of practices and projects that comprise techno-vernacular creativity.
Kichwateli (2011) is an “Afro sci-fi music-mentary” written by BobbMuchiri and performed by Nairobi-based Just A Band. The director / producer was inspired by African American and Caribbean artists Sun Ra, George Clinton and Lee Scratch Perry. Sun Ra ‘redeployed, reconceived, and re-created’ the materials and metaphors of cold-war science in his artistic practice. This [practice] includes DIY (Do It Yourself) instrumentation to experiments with electronic costumes and multimedia performances. These are spectacular examples of ‘black vernacular technological creativity’, or the embrace of STEM in ways that go beyond aesthetic form to engage with materiality itself.
One of the inspirations for my research is the late jazz pioneer and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra who engaged science, mathematics, and technological concepts in his work and set a course for an contemporary artistic movement called afrofuturism.
On the left is Sun Ra and on the right is contemporary Kenyan artist and TEDGlobal fellow Cyrus Kabiru who creates art called “C-Stunners” which are wearable eyewear sculptures made from found materials in Nairobi.
Kabiru’s work sits itself between fashion, wearable art, performance, and one of a kind commodity objects. Kabiru’s C-Stunners remind me of another DIY project, EyeWriter. EyeWriter is a low-cost eye-tracking system originally designed for paralyzed graffiti artist TEMPT1. The EyeWriter system uses inexpensive cameras and open-source computer vision software to track the wearer’s eye movements. While neither TEMPT1 or the artists/engineers who designed this device are afrofuturists I do consider EyeWriter to be exemplary DIY, linked to graffiti and hip-hop.
The appropriation of technology such as electronic instruments, virtual worlds and game console platforms counter the notion of the digital divide that usually only looks at computer technology. How can we as researchers and educator tap into the energy of this production to inspire young people to explore STEM?
Here are but a few examples of artists and designers who appropriate technology in new and creative ways. Their methods counter the notion of a “digital divide”. I think we need to widen the technological net to come up with ways to engage underrepresented ethnic students in STEM.
Next year I will conduct two workshops. February – March is a STEAM workshop and art project at a local charter school to include an introduction to artwork and concepts, a field trip to Georgia Tech to see an art exhibition, use of the CSDT to create designs and a public art project. In March Advancing STEM Through Culturally Situated Arts-Based Learningwill bring researchers, artists and cultural practitioners together to explore the role that culture and art (cultural art) plays among underrepresented ethnic students that, as studies show are increasingly uninterested, or disengaged in STEM.
Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation
Techno-Vernacular Creativity &
Learning in Underrepresented
Communities of Practice
By Nettrice R. Gaskins, Ph.D Candidate
techno – vernacular creativity
: cultural art and technology
created by ethnic groups
underrepresented in STEM
Muchiri Njenga . “Kichwateli ,” 2011. Production images. Courtesy of Studio Ang.
Sun Ra's technological appropriation critiques
dominant views on socio-technical change by
showing how African Americans and other
ethnic groups that are excluded from high
technology engage with artifacts on their own
How might contemporary artists from ethnic
communities whose artworks involve STEAM
inform research & practice in the future?
Sun Ra in rehearsal October, 1971 Oakland, CA. Photo from nuvoid.blogspot.com; Cyrus Kabiru’s C-Stunner.
The appropriation of technology such as
electronic instruments, virtual worlds and game
console platforms counter the notion of the
digital divide that usually only looks at computer
technology. How can we as researchers and
educators tap into the energy of this production
to inspire students from underrepresented
groups to explore STEM?
Artist Ellen Gallagher who is interested in the ocean’s depths and
ecologies. Her Osedax multimedia installation explores diverse
microclimates existing in otherwise uniform ocean environments. The
installation consists of 16mm film and painted slide projections inspired
by a species of undersea worm that buries into the bones of whale
Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash who played a key role in the
technical design of Rane Corporation’s Empath mixer. His technological
rhetoric acknowledges that he understood he was re-creating
technology based on his own personal aesthetics as well as using
scientific methods to develop his technique.
Former graffiti artist and break dancer and current interdisciplinary
artist Sanford Biggers who programmed a player piano using a MIDI
controller to perform his original arrangement of the American jazz
standard Strange Fruit.
Sound architect Young Guru who contributed thousands of digital
loops/beats to the EarSketch program engages students in computing
principles through collaborative computational music composition and
Culturally Situated Arts-Based Learning Tools
Left: Sanford Biggers. “Lotus,” 2011. Courtesy of the artist; Center: Saya Woolfalk. “Untitled (photo shoot),” 2013. Courtesy of the
artist; Right: Will Wilson. “eyeDazzler,” 2012. Courtesy of the artist.
Nettrice R. Gaskins. “Sun Ra Scepter (in Second Life),” 2010. Courtesy the artist.
Related STEAM Projects
100 Year Starship with Dr. Mae Jemison
Alternate Futures: Afrofuturist Multiverses & Beyond by
Nettrice Gaskins for IBM in Second Life
The EyeWriter system
The Shadows Took Shape at the Studio Museum of Harlem
Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere by Fondation Cartier pour
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