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Enter Snapchat's VR art gallery to celebrate Black History Month

Stills from Snapchat's VR art gallery looks like.
Stills from Snapchat's VR art gallery looks like.
Image: Snapchat

In celebration of Black History Month, Snapchat launched an immersive lens on Monday that lets users explore a virtual art gallery filled with the work of black millennial artists. The idea is that Snapchat users can enter the “gallery” wherever they are to see sharp and vibrant work that celebrates and reflects upon many themes, including being a young black artist in America. 

The featured artists include Gianni Lee, Bianca Pastel, Jessica Spence, Jameel Mohammed, and Paracosm, with music from Ivy Sole. The Snapchat black employee group, SnapNoir, “spearheaded” the initiative “to honor the work being done by talented artists today and celebrate the black history of now.” The lens and gallery experience will be available throughout February.

A virtual art gallery is an admirable way to celebrate Black History Month, considering the art world’s historical tendency to whitewash and erase black voices from museum walls. It’s a reclamation of the museum space — virtually — and easily accessible to many who might not discover the work of black artists otherwise.

Two of the pieces in the For Us, By Us gallery.

Two of the pieces in the For Us, By Us gallery.

Image: Snapchat

On Monday, a rainbow-colored lens will appear in users’ Lens Carousel. When you first turn on the lens, and the camera is in selfie mode, users will be able to take a selfie with a Black History Month banner.

But when you flip the camera, you see something entirely different.

Flipping the camera takes you into a crisp, white space, reminiscent of a real-world gallery, complete with LCD light strips hanging from the “ceiling.” 

The first thing you see is the title of the exhibit, “For Us, By Us: Art Through the Eyes of Black Millennials,” in very gallery-esque, san-serif lettering. It definitely sets the mood. But what’s on the walls makes you understand the minimalism of the space.

Much of the work from the young artists is hyper-real and bright. They depict a color-blocked painting of a young girl’s hair; a glossy, surreal look at identity vs. nature; a traditional, almost stately looking portrait. 

For example, here’s how the artist Paracosm describes their work: “This piece celebrates the ‘other’ by capturing the allure of ebony womanhood. Black resplendency, illustrated in the form of flower petals, recognize the purity in all black women. ‘Halima’ acknowledges the dualism between black womanhood and nature.”

Image: Snapchat

The color and layers of each piece draws you in, and you are actually able to get close and explore the works in the digital space, by moving closer towards them in the physical world — your camera zooms into each piece as you approach. I was able to try out the lens, and it actually does feel like you’re walking around a gallery, moving from piece to piece, and taking time to linger where you choose.

When you do, you’ll see iridescent petals surrounding a beautiful face, or a kid with a devilish smirk in some sort of no man’s land. The content of the art is diverse, but the vibrancy of the palette and sharpness unifies it. 

Clearly, these are pieces the world should see. And now, more than ever, we can.

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