Merkal Abilwa

Watercolour on paper, Images generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and hand drawings animated by Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Kokatisa project looks at the link between art and artificial intelligence (AI). The initial question was whether AI would replace the artist or whether it would be more of a tool for artists. Based on this question, Merkal Abilwa entered into a dialogue with an AI using the Dall-E application. As an illustrator, he often draws urban scenes. When he tried to get the Dall-E image generator to represent urban scenes in Kinshasa, he realised that certain popular Congolese locations were not recognised by the AI and were therefore generated incorrectly. This is due to its programming, which can only refer to images stored in the database. The result is a repetition of the stereotyped images that dominate the Internet. The representation of African places, people and geography is particularly affected by this phenomenon.

Merkal Abilwa hand-drew the locations not recognised by the AI in order to fill in the missing images and produce counter-images to the dominant stereotypical representations. The artist then animated the hand-drawn images using the Runway application. The result is a visual debate between the artist and artificial intelligence that opens up a number of areas for reflection. Who programmes artificial intelligence and how? What information is it fed with? How can artificial intelligence be adapted to the local context of Kinshasa?

Merveille Kalume Abilwa alias Merkal is a visual artist, illustrator, cartoonist and painter born in Lubumbashi (DRC) in 2000. He graduated in plastic arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Lubumbashi. He completed his training at the Waza art centre, taking part in various master class art workshops, before continuing his university studies at the Kinshasa Academy of Fine Arts. He is co-ordinator of Belushi studio, an organisation that produces comics and animated films. His artistic work focuses on contemporary digital media, their technological possibilities and dangers. This theme is also reflected at a formal level in the multimedia approach to his work, which combines illustrations on paper and digital and uses contemporary digital media to produce images. His work has been presented at the Centre d’art Waza (2019), the Lubumbashi Biennale (2022) and Bonobo Studio (2023).