The Virtual Revolution has arrived in Africa and it’s here to stay. Last year I was in Johannesburg where I attended the African Futures festival to participate in a panel as well as the VR Africa workshop, in collaboration with Big World Cinema. Pandora was also featured in the New Dimensions VR exhibition, which took place during the festival, and was curated by Ingrid Kopp, Creative Director at the Tribeca Film Institute. More from the organizers about the workshop:
The aim of this project is to introduce African storytellers and artists to VR, provide support and mentorship to them in the development and production of their ideas, and to start introducing African and audiences to African-‐produced VR. We also intend to expose our African-‐produced VR to the rest of the world through partnerships and relationships with existing festivals and exhibition spaces.
The workshop brought together six teams of participants from South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Uganda. I attended with Kabiru Seidu, who is the co-founder of Nubian VR to represent Ghana/Nigeria. It was truly inspiring to work alongside some of the most creative minds in Africa to explore the conceptual possibilities of virtual reality as an entirely new medium of expression. We even made a feature on a CNN article about the workshop.
I was very much impressed by the ambition and efforts of the organizers in bringing these event together, and I’m really excited about the VR projects we will be collaborating on in the near future. This entire trip was a great opportunity for Nubian VR, and we didn’t waste the opportunity to do some live action VR recording while we were out on the trail. You can view a 360 video of the final concert with Gato Preto live at the Alexander Theater in Braamfontein.
This year, I collaborated on a project for the Dakar Biennale, called Elsewhen, organized by the Dakar based fashion designer Selly Raby Kane. The Elsewhen project was a creative exploration of a fictional African city in an alternate universe, brought to life through the imaginations of seven different artists from across the continent. My own intervention was in creating the storyworld in the form of short fiction, as well as a mixed reality installation which used elements of virtual and augmented reality to transport viewers into a reconstruction of this alternate universe. The virtual experience was designed for Gear VR, using the Vuforia SDK for the augmented reality interface.
The installation featured a hexagonal podium inside a geodesic dome that represented the portal into Elsewhen. A portrait of an Akan mask was used as the trigger image for an augmented reality interface which initiated the transition to the virtual world. The audio was split between a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a subwoofer installed beneath the podium, which added a tactile dimension (subsonic vibrations!) to the experience.
After witnessing the reactions of about 300 people who tried the experience, I’m utterly convinced that virtual reality has a future in Africa. Mobile technology will be critical to adoption because of the accessibility it offers. Millions of people in Africa already have one half of a VR device in their hands, and that number will only keep rising. I really look forward to the day when African kids casually boot up virtual environments and use their imaginations to shape the architecture of the metaverse. These are early days still, but the future is looking brighter by the minute.