Explore Africa in virtual reality

October 21st, 2015
One of the most innovative virtual reality exhibitions that the African continent has seen is to run at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg from 29 to 31 October.

Viewers will be able to step inside a number of 360-degree mini universes. African artists and filmmakers will also get the chance to engage with the new technology in a virtual reality workshop and create new footage.

From following a 12-year old Syrian refugee from a camp in Jordan  in “Clouds Over Sidra” to joining a fantasy land of mutant creatures in “Kaiju Fury!” (both created by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk), the show entitled New Dimensions: A Virtual Reality Exhibition, the show promises to build a firm foundation for a pan-African multimedia platform for the continent. It is free and open to the public.

The project is part of the wider African Futures Festival, organised by the Goethe-Institut . African Futures and explores the continent’s engagement with ideas around the future through artistic expression in literature, fine arts, performance, music and film. The virtual reality show is curated by Ingrid Kopp and Steven Markowitz with further support from Blue Ice Docs and SDK Digital Lab.

In a closed workshop, the use of 360-degree audio-visual software accessed by viewers through state-of-the-art headsets will also be experimented with by well known film-makers, writers, animators and other artists from across Africa from 24 to 27 October 2015, before the exhibition opens.

The aim of the workshop is to deepen and expand the African footprint, according to the exhibition organisers – Big World Cinema and the Goethe Institut, who say that this will be followed up by the opportunity for participants to be commissioned to produce a piece in their country for exhibition across Africa and to showcase at various international festivals.

According to the organisers, virtual reality can be used to heal, escape, entertain, inform, enrich, inspire and educate its virtual inhabitants by transporting them into different worlds. Until now, the vast majority of such projects have been produced outside Africa and the narratives have largely been seen through Western eyes.

For example, at the exhibition, In Strangers with Patrick Watson (created by Felix Lajerunesse, Paul Raphael, Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski) viewers get to share intimate moments with the celebrated Canadian musician Patrick Watson at work in his studio. While in Way To Go (by Vincent Morisset) they can dance with their own (Western) destiny in an interactive voyage of self-discovery.

As Steven Markovitz explains, “the continent now runs the risk of falling behind unless it starts to innovate its own virtual reality experiences. It must start to nurture and promote its own truly unique journey in all its multi-pronged glory. We are therefore seeking not just to showcase virtual reality but to build VR capacity among its African writers, photographers, film-directors, poets – to create a vibrant platform for the continent.”

Taking part in the workshop from Kenya will be Ng’endo Mukii, an award-winning film director most well-known for her documentary Yellow Fever on African women’s ideals of beauty, collaborating with acclaimed 3D animator Andrew Kaggia from Nairobi, who has worked on numerous popular television shows.

Also participating from Kenya will be prominent film director Jim Chuchu, whose latest award-winning film Stories of Our Lives, was banned in his home country for “promoting homosexuality” but is soon to be screened in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

South Africa,will be represented by Bogosi Sekhukhuni, a renowned conceptual artist and creative director selected by the Mail and Guardian newspaper as one of the country’s Top 200 Young South Africans .

Paul Sika from the Ivory Coast,is going to fuse ground-breaking photography , filmmaking and digital techniques,  collaborating with fellow Ivorian Brissi Ziagnon, a leading web and graphic designer artist and software designer.

From Ghana, Jonathan Dotse, an Afrofuturist and writer will be collaborating with photographer and film-maker Kabiru Seidu who says that his interest in the field of virtual reality stems from his desire to recreate African history and imagine possible futures. The two Ghanaian artists recently formed NubianVR, an Accra-based virtual reality studio which produced Pandora, their first 360 degree short film which is being showcased at the exhibition.

From Senegal, avant-garde fashion designer Selly Raby Kane, known for her unbridled visual creativity and artistic influences, will collaborate with Moustapha Diop, a leading 3D graphic illustrator with a background in animation and passion for artistic creativity.

“If you want to have any idea of the world that is coming, the world ahead of us look at Africa,” says Afropolitan author and critic Achille Mbembe.

While the future may not be ours to hold, who better to push the boundaries forward, than experimental artists across the continent whose unique expressions of culture and creation help to define, enrich and restore the complex reality that makes up African lives.

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