“Spatial Thinking in Virtual Reality, Public Art, and Urbanization” forthcoming in the Journal of Public Space

“Spatial Thinking in Virtual Reality, Public Art, and Urbanization: How African artists are using virtual reality to construct critical narratives about public spaces,” co-authored with Vincenzo Cavallo, director of African Space Makers (2020) and the Nrb Bus Collective, will be published in the upcoming peer-reviewed issue of The Journal of Public Space, themed Public Space and Placemaking in African Cities.

Abstract The emerging use of virtual reality as an urban art form is sparking a revival in spatial thinking. Addressing topics ranging from expropriation in Lagos to public surveillance in Nairobi, a new wave of XR artists is appropriating the spatial dimensions of virtual reality to interrogate the neocolonial dynamics of urbanization in Africa. This forms what we term spacemaking, or, the production of virtual worlds and critical practices in the act of narrative expression. These narratives range from postcolonial to Afrofuturist, vary in interactivity or forms of address, and, fundamentally, center the pluriversal identities of the people and places that construct urban city centers in Africa. This study is a contextual analysis of five VR works produced by African directors and African-based artists/collectives, developed from in-depth interviews with each creator. The VR works, countries, and creators in discussion include: “The Other Dakar” (dir. Selly Raby Kane, Senegal, 2017), “Spirit Robot” (dir. Johnathan Dotse, Ghana, 2017), “Azibuye – The Occupation” (dir. Dylan Valley, South Africa, 2020), “Lagos at Large” (Jumoke Sanwo, Nigeria, 2019), and “African Space Makers” (dir.TheNrbBusCollective, Kenya, 2020), each of which uniquely explore urbanization from within their local city. Our findings reveal how African creators have co-created with their cities and communities in their use of virtual reality, forefronting Africa-based spatial modalities in an otherwise Westernized technology. These practices derive from decolonial lineages in spatial thinking and arts activism, while integrating new technologies into innovative expressions of agency, resistance, and transformation in postcolonial times. Thus, spacemaking in VR is a powerful, transdisciplinary tool for centering spatial discourse led by African voices in the design and management of public spaces in African cities.

Link to The Journal of Public Space: https://www.journalpublicspace.org/index.php/jps/article/view/1569