A Shared_Studios portal connecting New Haven and Kenya has taken up temporary residence on Cross Campus as part of the weeklong AFRICA SALON.
Taking the form of a golden shipping container equipped with audiovisual capabilities — including cameras, microphones, speakers and a giant screen — the portal allows people to speak directly with and learn from their counterparts halfway across the world. Organized in collaboration with Shared_Studios, a multidisciplinary arts, design and technology collective that seeks to facilitate authentic cross-cultural dialogue, the portal will remain at Yale through Sunday, connecting visitors with the Kwani? literary community in Nairobi. The Cross Campus installation marks the second occasion a portal has been opened at Yale, this time facilitated by Ifeanyi Awachie ’14, curator of the AFRICA SALON festival.
According to Michelle Moghtader, a member of the Shared_Studios team that helped bring the container to Yale, the portals help facilitate deeper connections than other kinds of contemporary communications technologies allow.
“We have a lot of technology today, we have Facebook, Twitter, all these things that supposedly connect us to strangers,” Moghtader explained. “But we often connect to people who are much like ourselves. With the portals, we are hoping to create a space where you can step inside and connect with someone you wouldn’t meet otherwise in a safe way.”
The Cross Campus portal is staffed by members of the Shared_Studios team as well as Yale students, all of whom serve as portal “curators.” Houriiyah Tegally ’16, a senior working as one of these curators, said the team collectively sets up the portal and ensures that it runs smoothly throughout the week, remaining in touch with their colleagues in Nairobi.
In addition to handling the portal’s logistical aspects, Tegally said, the curators are also responsible for translation, distribution of conversation prompts to visitors and evaluation of participant’s reactions after their visits. Tegally added that she thinks the portal curators’ work in facilitating conversations helps bring together complete strangers from different parts of the world in a natural way.
“I think the point that this is trying to achieve is to put people in the same physical space to enable them to connect,” she explained. “Very organic, genuine conversations can come up from very simple prompts, such as ‘What would make your day better today?’ It’s the kind of interaction you have when you travel and talk to someone just because they’re next to you in real life, at a coffee shop.”
Diana Opoti, a Nairobi-based fashion consultant and the executive producer of “Designing Africa,” a television program that focuses on the growth of the African fashion industry, was one of the visitors to the Nairobi portal. During her conversation, via portal, with the News, Opoti discussed her influential “100 Days of African Fashion” project, an Instagram series showcasing the work of contemporary African designers.
The portal will remain open until April 3 as part of the AFRICA SALON’s series of events celebrating contemporary African arts and culture.