Gabo Arora’s ZIKR: A Sufi Revival premiered at Sundance this year. It’s a 360-degree video capture of a number of different Sufi rituals, songs, and dances, but it had a real-time, social VR experience overlaid on top of the live action footage. Arora collaborated with Sensorium and Superbright to create virtualized beads and an interactive social VR experience, but also different video effects to give a metaphoric interpretation of some of the transcendental spiritual practices of the Sufis. ZIKR: A Sufi Revival is not only an anthropological documentation of some these Sufi ritual practices, but the real-time social interaction through the bead interactions allows for the viewers to participate and create moments of group synchrony.
I had a chance to catch up with Arora at Sundance where we talked about the tradeoffs of representing the full authenticity of an extended experience versus crafting a curated and edited synthesis of an experience, creating a real-time social VR ritual and the logistical challenges balancing freedom and immersion with safety, the deeper intention of creating moments of empathy or connection to Sufi groups who are under attack, and the power of VR to capture artistic abstractions of these types of transcendent experiences. Arora realizes that once you have the reality of an experience that the myth and romance is never the same, but he still wanted to capture some of these mysterious moments in ZIKR: A Sufi Revival. He also finds literal interpretations of reality to be boring, and so he tried to
hypnotize the audience unexpectedly through sound, but also poetically juxtapose another world that contradicts and creates paradoxes in order take the audience into new places.
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ZIKR: A Sufi Revival was acquired at Sundance by Dogwoof where it will be distributed to different cultural centers, cinemas, and museums, and there may be a networked version eventually released on Steam.
Here is some footage of audience members experiencing Zikr, A Sufi Revival at Sundance
Here’s a trailer of Zikr, A Sufi Revival
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