This Virtual Reality Experience Shows Black Women As The Pioneers of Brain Modulation Technology Through Hair Care
This year, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) were the most talked about subjects at SXSW 2017. Whether attending a speaker session, freshening up in one of the press lounges or attending a YouTube after party, attendees of this year's festival had several opportunities to try out the new technology. The VR experiences that I tried out included anything from drawing in 3D to immersion into a video game-like reality. The most intriguing, however, was an experience that allowed participants of all ethnic backgrounds and genders to experience a futuristic beauty salon...as a Black woman.
NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF), an extension of Hyphen-Labs, is a three part project consisting of speculative products, an immersive experience, and scientific research all based on re-imagining the black woman through a lens of technology. In this VR experience, viewers are placed in a NeuroCosmetology Lab where black women are the pioneers of brain modulation, embedding electrodes into extensions and braiding techniques.
NSAF innovates on how we will engage with black women through content in their digital future. The initiative explores alternative content through tangible products, new worlds and 3D landscapes, and scientific research, in order to inform and change the way we depict black women in society, culture, and the future. The philosophy is to create an impactful narrative that inspires the next generation of developers and media consumers, to radically transform virtual reality into a world where people of color exist, and to prove that VR and human centered design can be a tool for the betterment of society.
The setting of this SXSW VR interactive was Brook's Salon, a beauty salon of the presumed future. Participants were prompted to peruse a line of speculative low- to high-tech beauty products while waiting for their appointment to get a set of "Octavia Electrodes," transcranial extensions designed to make the brain's synapses more excitable and primed to increase neuroplasticity.
I had the opportunity at a party to talk with Nitzan Bartov, a lead artist on the project from Tel- Aviv, Israel that inspired me to check out the interactive. Bartov, as a fair-skinned woman of color, emphasized how important she believed it was for participants to see themselves in the virtual reality as a Black woman, therefore, the experience allows the user to see their adopted identity in a mirror.
While it's hard to gain the full experience of the VR interactive without going through the simulation, check out these videos from NSAF to get an idea of what users saw: