Everything the light touches is our kingdom of creativity

Since we first set up a content team at WeTransfer in 2016, we’ve tried to feature creatives from all corners of the planet. This started out as an ambition which fit the international nature of our service, WeTransfer, but over time it’s become a core part of our approach to storytelling.

Everything the light touches is our kingdom of creativity

From Aslan onwards, I’ve learned a lot from fictional lions. Proud, wise and calm, they radiate authority and seem to have choice advice applicable to almost any situation. The high-point of this — the mane man if you will — is of course Mufasa, the original Lion King.

Voiced by James Earl Jones (who will reprise the role in the Beyoncé/ Donald Glover remake next year), Mufasa is Aslan without the attitude, a small “p” preacher who teaches his son the ways of the world with patience and humour.

Before he is trampled to death by marauding wildebeest (oops, sorry, spoiler alert!) Mufasa is the heart of the film, and the rest of the story is really Simba trying to live up to his paternal ideal.

Amid the absolute banquet of wisdom Mufasa lays on for us, it’s hard to digest everything. (Besides, with a voice like that, he could make ordering a pizza sound profound). One line I have previously overlooked comes when he takes his rascal-cub up to a high rock and tells him, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

When it comes to defining our horizons, we rely on external forces to illuminate quite how far and wide the world goes. If we end up hearing the same stories from the same places, our worlds become smaller.

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Since we first set up a content team at WeTransfer in 2016, we’ve tried to feature creatives from all corners of the planet. This started out as an ambition which fit the international nature of our service, WeTransfer, but over time it’s become a core part of our approach to storytelling.

The truth is that for all the talk of “the creative world,” a huge number of stories we’re exposed to still come from the same core cities — New York, London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam. The world’s fabulous, fascinating diversity is reduced to a handful of places.

I understand why this happens — these vibrant creative epicentres attract new talent, which in turn cements their status, which in turn attracts newer talent etc. These cities deserve their reputations and will always be a core part of our storytelling across art, design, music, film, photography and more.

But at its worst, the focus on these cities is a form of cultural laziness; publishing platforms based in these same cities reflecting what they see around them and reinforcing an idea that the world begins and ends here and now.

There is so much exhilarating creative work to be found almost everywhere, and it’s hugely rewarding to unearth it. It might not always be easy — it might not come through slick PR people with concise quotes to hand and easy-to-download press images. There are language barriers, cultural differences and mismatched expectations to negotiate.

But one of the great thrills of running a content team like WePresent is to showcase work from China and Lithuania, Venezuela and Madagascar, South Korea and Botswana. We still cover a lot of creatives from the US and Western Europe, but we set ourselves the challenge to have every continent represented on our site every month.

And excitingly when we dig into the data, we find our readers respond really well to these stories from the lesser-covered corners of the world. One of our most popular pieces last year was the queer Kenyan artist Kawira Mwirichia, who uses the traditional Kenyan textile the khanga to depict the world’s LGBTQ turning points.

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In 2018, our readers went crazy for Gemma Fletcher and Ken Hermann’s journey through India, photographing a traditional circus and the jaw-dropping Well of Death.

These stories are out there and if you take the time and energy to find them, record them and present them properly, the audience is there for them too.

We’re running three stories that capture the current creative scene in Iran — a short film about sound artist Nesa, a profile of the installation artist Shirin Abedinirad and an interview with photographer Kiana Hayeri.

One of the challenges in covering creativity from afar is to avoid the preconceptions that too often define these scenes. Stereotypes are seductive. But when you read Nesa’s frustration with the way Tehran is typically presented, you see why well-meaning attempts to expand the stories we tell can collapse into clumsy cliche.

There are two ways to avoid this. One is to choose your collaborators wisely — to have the conversations about this issue up front and try and avoid this trap as much as possible. The other is to let locals tell their stories on their own terms. That’s why we commissioned three Iranian writers to write these three stories for us this week, but it’s something we want to push further in the future.

When we look at how WePresent can add to the cultural conversation, we want to be defined by our global approach. We feel a responsibility to shine a light on all parts of the creative world, from Brisbane to Bogota, Copenhagen to Cape Town.

We don’t want to create one-off series that exoticize lesser-talked-about cities as a sort of inspiration safari. Instead, we want this worldwide coverage embedded in the way we tell stories, illuminating a kingdom of creativity that goes much further than people often imagine.