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Facebook and Iddris Sandu Present: The Black Mural Project

To celebrate Black History Month, Facebook partnered with 22-year-old digital architect Iddris Sandu to create an interactive mural that uses augmented reality (AR) to celebrate young black changemakers making a difference in their communities.

The mural, which highlights Sandu, Marsai Martin, and others, was unveiled on February 27 at an event with students from the I PROMISE School in Akron, Ohio. Students used AR technology to unlock short videos tied to each of the faces on the mural, designed to inspire viewers to use the power of technology to make a difference in their communities.

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With Black History Month now having drawn to a close, the traveling mural will continue to be showcased at schools and organizations across the country to celebrate Black culture and inspire Black youth.

We sat down with Sandu, who is also CEO of ethosDNA and Creative Director of spatiaLABS, to learn more.

How did the original concept for the project come about?

Iddris Sandu: The “beta” concept for The Black Mural originated around 2016 — well before I partnered with Nipsey Hussle to create the world’s first smart store. At that time, I was working on creating an AR framework, but found myself bottlenecked by the limitations of mobile hardware.

I was exploring several different AR tools, albeit none of which would allow me to natively create or code some of the unique things I was able to program with this project, now in 2020.

For students to feel immersed was key; incorporating sound, volumetrics, and touch, coupled with great stories, was vital while creating this experience. It would take patience, a couple of years, and a couple of consultations to finally have all of the missing pieces to the puzzle in 2020 — which synonymously is the year of perfect vision — now working with people like Maya Carter to deliver the full vision.

What did you draw upon for inspiration?

IS: When I envisioned this experience, it was very important for me to create an AR experience that felt curated and tailored for students. As such, I looked at conventional 2D UI / UX projects and eventually came across an idea to render sprites (which are basically two-dimensional graphic entities) into a 3D canvas with respect to the users’ reality. I like to call this spatial cognizance.

Within the experience, there are two-dimensional images that are anchored into one’s three-dimensional peripheral camera view. Students are able to click on these anchor points in order to jump to different fullscreen experiences.

Another inspiration was the realization that previous generations were exposed to knowledge very linearly. By this I mean that, until now, students have been reliant on receiving visual information through a two-dimensional, linear world — even though in most cases, the people and events they were learning about lived in and impacted a three-dimensional world.

Previously, if students were reading a book about a past hero like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, each page was a 2D representation of something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did or said. Each page could only hold so much in its collective body of information. And each body of information lived permanently on a page. Even if students were watching a video on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., students were still confined to a two-dimensional displaying medium like a television or computer screen.

Thus, in creating this project, it was really important for me to think of AR in a way that could be a gateway for students to learn laterally rather than linearly — to add another layer with infinite possibilities, and infinite perspectives.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

IS: I can never visualize Black history without envisioning Black future. My grandfather used to say to me that the best way to predict the future was to create it, and that if it was imaginable — you had already created it.

So Black History Month to me is about learning about the past, but focusing on the future, because the future is already here.

Black History Month also shows me that Black people are capable of being referred to as the future and not just capable of being remembered in the “past.”

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

IS: Something I would like for people to walk away with is the power of diversity and the power of ownership. I feel like there’s going to be a new era of diverse thinkers and creators that will go on to create really groundbreaking technologies. These forthcoming leaders will be challenged with the litmus test of whether their creations are truly innovative or simply inventive. How can we create tools and services that aim to serve everyone? — And if not serve anyone, how can things we invent teach our audience about topics like empathy, equality, and the importance of representation?

The second thing I’d like to emphasize is the power of ownership. I have collaborated with Facebook by virtue of Instagram in the past, but this project was the most significant to me, personally. The ability to co-create alongside a major company with respect to ownership is very rare. I trust that this larger partnership emphasizes the importance and power of internal-external partnerships now, and for the next generation to come.

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