NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism is an art installation and virtual reality experience recently featured at the Tribeca Film Festival. The project, which seeks to put women of color in the virtual reality space, was created by Hyphen-Labs, a collective of women from diverse backgrounds.
“We worked with character modelers, animators and developers to create an empowering experience that puts black women and their narratives at the center of the piece,” says co-creator and artist Carmen Aguilar Y Wedge.
The installation is composed of two parts: prototypes of physical products of the future and an immersive VR experience. The invented products focus on security, protection and visibility of black women’s bodies—from earrings that record harassment to an anti-surveillance scarf that blocks facial-recognition software.
By visiting a VR salon known as a neurocosmetology lab, visitors enter a world where black women discuss politics, arts and science—a hair salon with a futuristic twist. One of the products featured is based on real technology known as transcranial stimulation, in which a cap is placed on your head to strengthen focus and thought. However, it needs to be close to the skull, so it’s built for people with little to no hair. Hyphen-Labs pioneered a brain-optimizing technique that uses extensions known as Octavia Electrodes, which are named after legendary sci-fi writer Octavia Butler.
“If I were to make something and reimagine it in a way that fits into black rituals, how would we do this?” asks project co-creator Ashley Baccus-Clark, who is a molecular biologist. “Thinking back to the civil rights era and before that, the salon was a place of political activation, community building, creative endeavors, and we really wanted to mirror that but also think about why science and technology is leaving us out of that space.”