Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Net-forum, House of World Cultures, Berlin

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  Statement:   Sue Williamson
 
   ArtThrob is a monthly online magazine about contemporary art in South Africa which first went online in August 1997. Pages include selected listings of exhibitions and art events, both local and overseas, news, a focus on one artist each month, an art project, links with related websites, an exchange page where news of interest can be posted, a feedback section and a bulletin board. An important feature of the site is that each month‚s offerings are archived - statistics show that these archives are perused extensively.
   South Africa is a country where resources for art are extremely limited. There is not a single print magazine devoted to the visual arts, or even to culture in general. Print coverage of art is thus restricted to a few paragraphs or an occasional article in general interest magazines, and one or two reviews per week in newspapers. On television, one magazine programme late on Sunday nights covers culture. Thus, for those who have access to the Internet, ArtThrob is proving to be an invaluable source of visual and factual information which is unobtainable elsewhere, a point of contact for the country‚s artists and those here and throughout the world interested in South African visual art production. As a working artist myself, I see this as its most important function. The enthusiastic response the column receives from artists is extremely gratifying.
   At the same time, I am aware that the site is still at the crawling stage, and that the astounding potential for instant global communication provided by the Internet has hardly been tapped. However, although excitement about the prospect of the way in which this new technology will allow artists to participate more directly in projects driven by other artists across the world, or to initiate such a project themselves is legitimate, some cool words must be noted.
   For many artists in South Africa who do not have the money to buy the basic art materials they need to make work, the Internet is still regarded as inescapably elitist. Yes, there are Internet cafes in the cities, but it costs money to access these, and generally, beginner users of the Internet often find the experience more frustrating than satisfying. As those of us who are connected know, it takes many hours of use to realize any kind of fluency.
   To put this into some kind of perspective, South Africa has a population of about 35,000,000 of which probably just over 1,000,000 people are connected to the net. Of this, it is estimated that about 5-10% of users are black, and are probably mainly connected through their business or university. Thus we can see that there is a very large ravine which must be filled before the web can be regarded in any way as a popular means of communication.
   If the first world countries are serious about using the Internet to overcome the dichotomy between curating and curated countries, and dissolving geographical borders, this is the first and major question which will have to be addressed.


Sue Williamson: Visual artist, lives in Cape Town. Initiator and editor of ArtThrob.
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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. 1998/1999