Virtual Reality has been the biggest buzzword within the tech world in recent years, and with good reason. Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is slowly becoming the latest, innovative must-have gadget. The development of VR technology has now made the experience more accessible to use in educational programs, video games, and most recently, art.
Not to be confused with 3D animation, Virtual Reality Art (VR Art) uses the VR headset and controllers to create a virtual space that viewers are able to immerse themselves into. Established VR artists are already appearing all over the world, along with the development of several VR art programs.
We talked to one such emerging artist who claims to be one of the first Arab VR artists to date. Najla Al-Khalifa is a Washington DC and Bahrain based VR artist who uses the new medium for her immersive works. Viewers are able to “walk into” her virtual paintings, that usually have an emphasis on themes of art history, archeology, and the human condition. Her work on ancient Dilmun culture is currently on view as a part of the 45th Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition.
Can you set the record straight on VR artists?
A VR artist is an artist that does their work in a Virtual Reality environment. With a VR headset on they use two controllers (or Wands, as some people call them) to create or manipulate the environment that they are in. A viewer is then able to wear the VR headset and be completely immersed in the artist’s work. It’s an incredible way to experience art differently. VR artists also usually create videos of their art within the environment, as a more accessible way to view their work.
How long have you used this medium?
I started in 2017, the same year the program that I frequently use was released, called Tilt Brush by Google. What appealed to me the most about the medium was that I was able to “experience” art rather than solely viewing or analyzing it.
Have you printed up any art / 3D?
Yes, I have! Towards the end of 2017, I created a model of the Shaikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh fort, also known as the Riffa Fort, using VR. The model was then 3D printed multiple times to be used as embassy gifts, as part of the Bahrain National Day celebration at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. I loved the process of bringing art from my virtual world into our reality!
What is it like working in New Media?
It can feel slightly intimidating at times working with a medium that is in its beginning stages of development, but it’s also satisfying to explore, experiment, and experience something completely new. VR is mainly talked about as an educational tool or an immersive way to play video games but is now beginning to be used for art. The VR art community is constantly growing as the technology becomes more accessible, and I’m fortunate to have met several of these talented international VR artists through social media. I’m especially honored to be a part of the growing social media hashtag #womeninVR which has helped me connect with talented women VR artists from the US, the UK, and Japan! I have not met another Arab VR artist yet, but introducing VR as a medium for artists in the region is definitely one of my goals.
Have you been in the exhibition before — it’s in its 45th year…
This is my first time taking part in this prestigious exhibition! I was hesitant to submit my VR work last year, only because it would be the first artwork of its kind presented and I was not confident enough to take that step yet. After hearing of my acceptance this year, I met with a lot of positive feedback. I grew more confident in my work being recognized as innovative and almost revolutionary.