Two ICS professors are participating in events hosted by UCI’s Africana Institute for Creativity, Recognition and Elevation (AICRE) for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. AICRE aims to “create a dynamic exchange of cultural, scientific, economic and spiritual knowledge between local communities and academia to positively impact the next generation, so people of African descent can equitably contribute to a more sustainable society and command respect worldwide.” Informatics Professor and AICRE Fellow Aaron Trammell and Computer Science Professor Magda El Zarki will be presenters at two of the public events, contributing to this exchange of knowledge.
The first event of this Inaugural Workshop and Performances Series will be held Friday, Jan. 12, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Student Center. During the workshop on “The Impact of Africa’s Fractal Codes: Connections and Linkages,” Professor Trammell will discuss his work on “Misogynist Algorithms and Quantified Bodies in Role-Playing Games.” Other presenters will discuss musical performance and cultural heritage of the Southern Ewe people in Ghana, as well as algorithms for modern existence. There will also be a roundtable discussion about linkages and connections. Register for the event here.
On Monday, Jan. 15, Professor El Zarki will present at the “Building AICRES of Resilience” event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Contemporary Arts Center Plaza. El Zarki will discuss the making of Sankofa, an educational video game that brings to life the cultural history of Ghana. El Zarki’s colleague, Pat Seed, will discuss their ongoing efforts to develop Elmina Castle, a video game that teaches players about the slave fort in Ghana, where thousands were held prisoner prior to being shipped overseas. You can register for the event here.
AICRE’s co-principal investigator, Sheron Wray, an associate professor of dance at UCI, is familiar with El Zarki’s work because she was there when it began. Back in the summer of 2010, El Zarki went with Wray to Ghana, which is when El Zarki says she first got interested in the history of the slave fortresses and the culture of the west coast of Africa. “I realized that very few people on our side of the Atlantic will ever get to travel to Ghana to see these historic buildings, where their ancestors were shipped from as slaves.” So upon returning to UCI, El Zarki started working on virtual environments and games that incorporate some of this history.
Attendees should walk away from Monday’s workshop with a better understanding how “immersive technologies and games can teach people a lot about their culture and history,” says El Zarki. She explains that such technologies can be more accessible than books and can “leave a more lasting impression, especially on kids.” She hopes to teach African American children that where they came from has a very rich history and culture. She adds, “As the word ‘sankofa’ means in Twi: you can only more forward if you understand your past.”
– Shani Murray