When second-year ALA student Towela Chawezi Tembo (also known as Towela Kams) from Botswana picked up a camera for the very first time in 2015, she didn’t know that photography was going to be her doorway into the vast and colourful world of the creative arts. Since then, she has taken photographs for clients, directed four documentaries, traveled to South Africa and Zambia, and co-founded an initiative that lives out a truth she carries with her every day: that the creative arts industry has the power to connect and inspire people across borders.
Tembo, who describes herself as a curious and dynamic young mind, taps into the power of the arts through Creative Connect, a Botswana-based initiative she co-founded with artistic researcher Maipelo Gabang. Creative Connect seeks to strengthen the relational ties between contributors to Botswana’s creative scene. The team believes that the success of a creative community lies in networking, collaborating and producing a platform for intellectual and social discourse relating to arts development.
“When I was doing photography, I battled a lot with it because things tend to happen in isolation in Botswana so I had never seen examples of what running a successful photography business as a high school student looked liked. So when I went to Cape Town (to attend the ORMS School of Photography) and saw just how much is possible with this medium alone, I really wanted to create something that showed other people from Botswana exactly what was possible,” says Tembo.
Through workshops, symposiums, and interviews, Creative Connect facilitates essential conversations on artist career development, exposure, and self-awareness. “We really want people to think critically about what role art can play in creating a national identity for Botswana. Why are certain things not working in Botswana? Why is it so hard to be a creative artist? It’s hard everywhere but why is it harder in Botswana? We want people to think about those questions.” Above all, Tembo and her co-founder want Motswana artists to draw inspiration from the ways in which other creatives are navigating the artistic landscape.
Which makes sense then, that Tembo’s time in South Africa, more specifically at ALA, has greatly influenced the work she does with Creative Connect. “ALA has opened my eyes to artists in different parts of Africa. Initially, Creative Connect was a Botswana initiative, but now it’s becoming more and more pan-African.” And this is showing in their work of late. On the Creative Connect YouTube channel, you’ll find features and interviews from artists in South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana and Kenya – and the list keeps growing.
Speaking of growth, Tembo shares what the future looks like for Creative Connect? “We’ve got the network so that’s great. The next step is to connect all these different people in different parts of the continent so that they can easily collaborate with one another. We want it to be a case of people landing safely into a supportive network when they work in other countries – because that does a lot for mobility and cultural exchange,” says Tembo.
In the same way that Tembo says her time at ALA has shown her how much bigger than ‘classroom education’ the Academy is, is the same way she ultimately hopes Creative Connect gets people thinking about the creative arts industry as a whole. At least, that’s her parting message. “I want people to know that the arts industry is so much bigger. You can do and be so many things. You can be a curator, a gallery director, an educator, an economist (something she wants to venture into), and so much more. Above all, I want people to think about what they, in their individual capacities, can bring to the table to help grow the creative industry in Botswana, in southern Africa, and in Africa as a whole.”
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