Over the past few years, state-of-the-art technologies have been used more and more in activist and decolonial contexts to challenge hegemonic mainstream narratives, from a digital dome documentary addressing Climate Crimes (Adrian Lahoud, Michaela French, 2018) to GoPro cameras in CBT (Coding: Braiding: Transmission; 2017) by Isaac Kariuki and Tamar Clarke-Brown. This paper proposes to focus on a particular part of this wider production, coming from an African context – Africa understood as a cultural space including the diaspora (Mbembe 2010) – and using VR to counter historically established, hegemonic narratives shaped by colonial episteme. This production started around 2017 and was linked to the belief that, VR being a new technology globally, would create a level playing field for African filmmakers (Dahir 2017). From the beginning on, it was also seen as an opportunity to open up spaces for underrepresented narratives, as the Cape Town-based Electric South lab say in its mission statement.
The presentation will thus investigate how short films and immersive projects use VR technology to develop decolonial counter-narratives, counter-histories and counter-concepts of knowledge. Using the latest technology alone already challenges the colonial myth of the timeless, traditional African society (Mbembe 2010) and the denial of self-determined participation in technological developments for African communities (McIlwain 2020). By analyzing projects such as Premium Connect (Real Deal; 2017) by Tabita Rezaire, NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (2017) by Hyphen Labs, or The Subterranean Imprint Archive (2021) by Lo-Def Film Factory against the backdrop of theoretical approaches to counter-knowledge production (Babias/Nkdikung et al. 2015) and decolonial media studies (Moyo 2020), the paper will show how the use of VR technology gets intertwined with aesthetic counter-strategies (e.g. reminiscences to Afrofuturism, speculative storytelling), state-of-the-art research in neuroscience or technology to reflect on the birth of computing sciences or the legacy of technopolitics in Africa.
Cornelia Lund is an art, film and media theorist and curator living in Berlin. Since 2004, she has been co-director of fluctuating images, a platform for media art and design. She has been a research fellow in a DFG research project on German documentary film at the University of Hamburg. And for many years she has been teaching media studies and design theory at various universities, such as the University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg, University of Applied Sciences Hamburg, Humboldt University Berlin, HTW University of Applied Sciences Berlin, and the University of the Arts Bremen.
2018-2019 she has been project curator of “Connecting Afro Futures. Fashion – Hair – Design” at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin, supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. Since 2021 she is a research fellow at the University of the Arts Bremen.
She is a member of the Forum Antirassismus Medienwissenschaft network, the Besides the Screen network, and 2014-2018 she has been a member of DokArt Hamburg.
Cornelia Lund is co-editor and author, together with Holger Lund, of Audio.Visual – On Visual Music and Related Media (Arnoldsche, 2009), Design der Zukunft (AV Edition, 2014) and the online platform lundaudiovisualwritings (2017). She is also co-editor and author of The Audiovisual Breakthrough (2015) and the online platform Post-digital Culture (2015-ongoing) and Connecting Afro Futures (2019). Her work as a curator includes numerous screenings and exhibitions.