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.
This paper 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.