Participatory Art in a Participatory Culture

I would argue that through digital media and digital culture, not only art, but culture and human experience itself have become participatory. Almost every aspect of life is now available online and can be viewed, commented on, and shared. Given this development it is logical that art, one of the most profound expression of human experience, is also following this route and becoming more and more participatory. As Kris Rutten writes, “Digital technologies have opened up the disciplinary boundaries of art and its focus has increasingly shifted towards process, participation, interaction and dialogue” [1].

As an example of participatory art, the “Rooted” art project with the Benet people of Uganda by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Netherlands, is one that inspires me [2]. Dutch artists traveled to Uganda to live with the tribe of the Benet, an indigenous people that has been displaced from their ancestral forest when the area mount Elgon was turned into a National Park. The authorities used violence and even killed Benet to evict them from their native lands and they are now forced to live without the lands that are crucial to their traditions and heritage, and face punishment when trying to return to their ancestor’s lands. In order to honor Benet culture and tradition and give the tribe a chance to express themselves, the artists worked closely with the whole community to create an exhibition with was then presented to officials and to the Benet themselves, accompanied by traditional music, song and dance. I find this project especially important because it does not look at the indigenous people as mere objects of study, exploiting their rich culture to create art for an audience far away. Instead, “Rooted” creates art with and for the people themselves. The recordings that were taken for the project help the tribe preserve their culture, the artworks created helped the people cope with their difficult situation and express their fears and troubles, and the exhibition showed their traditions to a wider audience, raising awareness to their situation and the beauty and uniqueness of their culture. While the exhibition was held on the Benet’s grounds, the artists made a film about the creation of the project that can be accessed from everywhere in the world [3].

“Rooted” Art-project with the Benet people of Uganda. from Arno Peeters on Vimeo.

The film and the digital aspect is not crucial to the art project itself, but it makes it possible to extend the reach of the project to outside of Uganda and raise international awareness. The focus is on the local and traditional, however, the project benefits from reaching out globally, hoping to inspire further art of this nature.

My own participatory art project is inspired by designer Lesia Trubat’s visualisation of ballet movements with the help of Electronic Traces, special shoes that trace the dancer’s movements and sends them to a phone, looking like brush strokes [4]. I would love to use this technology to create an artwork from a game of Capoeira to use it’s beauty and expression for artistic creation. Capoeira is a Brazilian Martial Art that I’m doing, which is a beautiful combination of music, dance, kicks and acrobatics, executed by two players circling each other [5].

The participants of my project would be the Capoeiristas, who wear special sensors on their bodies, possibly in the form of a special suit. The software would transfer the movements onto a computer, with different colours for the players. I would do this for several games and then create an exhibition consisting of one big room with screens on the wall. In the middle is a control panel where visitors of the exhibition can play the different songs that the games were recorded to. Only when a song is played does the screen light up and show the visualization of the respective Capoeira game. In this way, the visitors of he exhibition, most of whom will have never played Capoeira before, can become actively involved in the Capoeira game by controlling the music. Music is at the heart of Capoeira and the Capoeiristas playing the instruments are in charge of the game, controlling the pace, type of game, and its beginning and end. This role is now taken over by the spectator, who becomes part of the tradition and ritual of Capoeira. The games themselves do not show the players, but are abstracted by virtual “brushstrokes” on a screen. This emphasises the flow and beauty of the Martial Art and visualises its artistic qualities.

[1] Rutten, K., 2018. Participation, Art and Digital Culture. Critical Arts, 32(3), pp.1–8.

[2] Press Release for the Exhibition:

[3] ‘Rooted’ Art-project with the Benet people of Uganda. 2013. Directed by A. Peeters. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].


[5] Prof. Gugu Quilombola vs Prof. Fogo Capoeira Cork 2018. 2018. Capoeira Cork Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2019].


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