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On Africa Day at the UN in Vienna the Africa Interactive digital project was presented to the world. Governments, museums and private collections have been invited to join the project and contribute to this 3D databank which will intelligently link all facets of African art, culture, heritage, and history on a global scale. High level UN and Austrian diplomats were present at the Africa Interactive launch. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, millions will download the Africa Interactive App and Austria will have played a central role in making this wonderful vision a reality.

Diana Mautner Markhof, 9 June 2023

On 30 May 2023, the United Nations in Vienna celebrated Africa Day. The celebration coincided with the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union, and included a series of musical performances, talks, and a wide selection of culinary delights from the African continent

Taking part at the Africa Day conference were the three highest African woman diplomats at the UN in Vienna, Fatou Haidara, Deputy to the DG of UNIDO, Najat Mokhtar Deputy Director General of IAEA and Ghada Waly DG of UNOV and Executive Director of UNDOC, which was chaired by Ambassador Philbert Abaka Johnson, Chair of the Permanent Mission of the Africa Group to the UN in Austria.

A highlight of the celebrations held at the Vienna International Center (VIC), one of the four headquarters of the UN in addition  to New York, Geneva and Nairobi, was the presentation of ‘Africa Interactive’. Africa Interactive is a large-scale digital heritage project, which when completed will allow the user to surf the African continent and learn about its culture, art and history. The project will ultimately act like a digital encyclopedia and could serve as a model for other such projects globally.

Its initiator, Professor Titus Leber of Austria, has been working on the project’s realization for the past seven years. It is now supported by the Permanent Mission of the Africa Group to the UN in Austria and the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, represented at Africa Day by Ambassador Dr. Christoph Thun-Hohenstein.

Africa Interactive will be a 3D experience. It is being called a virtual restitution of cultural property. Governments, museums and private collections have been invited to join the project and contribute their art work to this 3D databank which will intelligently link all facets of African art globally.

The vision of Professor Leber is to make African heritage and art “universally accessible” on smart devices by using state-of-the-art technology, and to bring African Interactive into the metaverse. Africa Interactive has the ambitious goal of recording Africa’s oral history, which is slowly disappearing with each generation. Using today’s technology, the elders can tell their story for posterity. Festivals and cultural events can be recorded, and then watched around the globe.


Picture: Anansi, Spiderweb by Francesco Tomasinelli, courtesy of Museum Liaunig, Neuhaus-Suha

Professor Leber warns against the “Disneyfication” of the continent. Africa does not need Disney’s Black Panther, it has its own heroes and legends. The symbol which Professor Leber has chosen for his project is Anansi, a mythical spider from Ghana. Africa Interactive is visually depicted as a spider web of glass beads. The tale of Anansi is the story of a clever spider which outsmarted and triumphed over the sky god Nyame and captures the legends and stories of the world in its spiderweb. Anansi unites the wisdom of the world, which he must share with others. So Anansi’s web depicts an interconnected story of everything – a precursor of the idea of the internet.

The nine muses of Greek mythology were the sources of inspiration for art and knowledge. The muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and the goddess Mnemosine: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Thalia, Terpsichore, and Urania. If all goes according to Professor Leber’s vision, the 10th muse by the name of “Digitalia” might join their ranks. This new muse of the digital art world might be depicted as an Egyptian goddess, playing the harp, and living in the digital world.

Akan pendant
Picture: Akan pendant depicting Anansi merged with 3D depiction of rare Bobo sculpture. © Digitalia

Africa Interactive will preserve and disseminate African Identity and, in the future, incorporate Artificial Intelligence (=AI3). It is an ambitious project which one hopes will give rise to a new understanding and appreciation of Africa’s, culture, heritage, and history.

Maybe in the not-too-distant future millions will download the Africa Interactive App and Austria will have played a central role in making this wonderful vision a reality.

Picture: Africa Day 2023 at the Vienna International Center on 30 May 2023. © iGlobenews
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