It’s like Pokémon Go, but in real life. This week, Mural Arts Philadelphia program unveiled its first augmented reality mural, “Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny” at 5300 Lansdowne Avenue. Through a mobile app (downloadable as MuralArtsAR from the Apple store and soon available from Android), the mural, moving from one end to the other, comes to life with holographic statues and floating orbs.
At first glance, the mural itself seems just like any other within the Mural Arts program. Within the vicinity, there’s no indication that there’s something particularly special. That’s not, of course, to say its aesthetic is any less. Across the 8x8 panels, vivid hues of purple splatter the wall. On the right half, the purple coincides with other colors to form concentric circles. A side profile of a girl takes the foreground. She’s holding a seed, a symbol of birth and growth and potential. On the left are four more paneled figures, made clear by the lines tracing the shape of their noses, the deep furrows in their faces, and angle at which the light ceases to strike. These are meant to show the African diaspora.
But take a phone out, and it’s an entirely different scene. From left to right, stones in blue, purple, pink, and yellow swirl above the ground. There’s a certain orientation they’re presented in that gives them the appearance of depth. Because of this, the rocks are seem to be coming at the viewer (hence the augmented reality aspect). To the left, small orbs and statues stand on the grass. There seem to be a few portals, possibly alluding to portals to other worlds. High above, there are two much larger blue and purple orbs. It’s a reality unlike the one that exists, reflective of the underlying theme of dream and imagination.
All this is cast to a backdrop of music, which can also be heard through the app. The audio begins with the thunderous drumming of percussion instruments and chants, followed by a crisp, articulate blare of a trumpet, reminiscent of jazz in the '70s. The majority of this draws from archives and samples representative of the African diaspora that have come to define Philly’s culture. Transitioning to a more modern, hip–hop beat, the experience then culminates with what seems to be sci–fi sounds belonging in a video game. Such a switch is an envisioning of the future that is to come.
The project is the work of artist Joshua Mays and producer and world–renowned DJ King Britt. Along them were students from Haverford School and Mastery Shoemaker Charter School, who helped create the sounds and painted the panels. “We were really just trying to plant seeds into the minds of the kids to prompt them to think about the potential of their neighborhood and what it could look and feel like 20 years from now,” Mays said in an interview with Philly magazine. “I want them to always remember to aspire for something greater but to also continuously stretch their imaginations—and their imaginations really ran wild with this.”
By engaging with the public community, “Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny” is perfectly reflective of the very mission of the Mural Arts Program, which is to engage and educate people in the arts and murals. This one, in particular, though, allows for an engagement unlike any other.
The app is expected to be available indefinitely—or at least while the mural is up.