Common Life: study in Africa

News overview

DOEN supports artists and art collectives working at the heart of society who critically question the world around them. Together with people from all levels of society, these social practitioners develop new prospects, inviting them to shape society differently. Joining forces with different initiatives, they form a broad-based movement focused on bringing about change collectively from the bottom up, therefore accelerating transitions.

DOEN also supports a range of international social art practices. Until now, however, little was known about the how these initiatives work in practice in the context of Africa. DOEN therefore commissioned a study into five collective organisational practices within the arts, where values such as commonality and inclusion play an especially important role. The aim is to gain more insight into the different practices, establish what role art plays in creating new ways to live together and make the resulting insights widely accessible. Additionally, the study contributes towards providing new prospects for the global movement for communal good within an African context. The five case studies also included three DOEN partners: Africa Arts Kollective, Festival sur le Niger and Kër Thiossane.


To examine the role of art in society, five different initiatives in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, South Africa and Mali cooperated within the context of the Common Life project over the past 18 months, each with a dedicated researcher.

Three key insights emerged:

  • Artists organise collectively. Through participatory and social art practices, they cooperate closely with communities and collectively develop new prospects addressing social problems.
  • The artists focus on integrating artistic practices within society, allowing art to play a role in creating new prospects. In turn, this contributes towards making the connection between the social environment, people, history, nature and urban reality visible. These prospects are vital to mobilise bottom-up change.
  • The various art collectives participating in the study connect international artistic traditions within the African context and reality. What’s more, their art practices are grounded in oral traditions and local philosophies, history, expertise, common knowledge and customs.

Community art

One of the best examples combining these insights is the Afrika Arts Kollective glass recycling project within the Ugandan slums. What started as a studio for artists to cooperate, developing work from recycled glass has grown into a self-organised community and creative meeting place. Women benefit from a safe place to be themselves, where people can eat and work together, and where young children can get an alternative artistic education. Together, the artists and community form the Ekilawuli collective that develops new prospects for shaping a better society driven by artistic imagination.

Coordinator of the Common Life study, Molemo Moiloa:

“This study provides valuable examples of how artists from different African countries cooperate with communities to develop new ways to address social issues. Working collectively with local communities sheds new light on identifying strategies for issues such as caring for the natural social environment, the connections between different generations and developing sustainable economies. We hope the study will also enable others to develop new visions on how to live and work together in today’s world.”

About Common Life

Common Life is an initiative launched by ‘ungovernable’, an independent community initiative based in South Africa. Each of the five artistic collectives was paired with a dedicated researcher during the study, who developed the scope of the study in a cooperative manner. In addition to the five case studies, the publication includes specially commissioned illustrations by Charity Atukunda, and two supplementary articles (by Le18 from Marrakesh, among others) to provide a broader historical context for the themes (