When Neka King arrived at the opening night of the 29Rooms festival, she could not contain her excitement. The local illustrator, known as NNEKKAA, was viewing the final product of an art piece she created for the event for the very first time.
“I like it! It’s wild to see it in real life,” said King, whose design of silhouette-like African-American figures, is now plastered across a huge monument. “I worked on it for about three weeks and sent it off, so it’s like sending a child off and having them come back grown.”
The Georgia State University graduate is among dozens of artists, visionaries and brands, who’ve joined forces to actualize “29Rooms: Expand Your Reality,” a traveling, pop-up art extravaganza from the digital media company Refinery29.
“The concept of ‘Expand Your Reality’ is to allow our audience to get from behind the computer screen and have real-life interactions,” explained Katherine Tooley, Refinery29’s senior vice president of experimental.
Although the immersive experience has stopped in New York and Los Angeles since launching in 2015, it’s making its Atlanta debut this year at The Works in West Midtown. Through Sept. 8, attendees can explore the 29 unique, multi-sensory rooms, which were all built to foster creativity and community.
While some stations, such as the ACLU newsstand for social justice, are thought-provoking, others, like the teen bedroom covered in faux-fur and posters of stars from the ’90s, are more nostalgic.
There are a few installations that may even bring you to tears.
In the “29 Questions” room, you’re required to sit across from a stranger and answer the questions on the cards stacked on the table.
“The questions are anywhere from ‘what’s your favorite thing about yourself’ to deeper ones like ‘who do you miss?’” Tooley described. “It’s really amazing to see the visceral reaction that people have. Some are incredibly uncomfortable at the beginning but are crying by the end.”
It gets people out of their comfort zones, and that’s a part of the goal, Tooley said.
Another goal is to highlight Atlanta’s rich art scene.
Along with King, Sarah Emerson was also tapped to contribute a piece to “29Rooms.” The Agnes Scott professor created a colorful, neon billboard exclusive to the Atlanta stop.
“This is my interpretation of our current landscape,” Emerson said of the piece, which includes cartoonish drawings of American flags mixed in with words likes “hope,” “live,” and “do no harm.” “I wanted to make an image that would acknowledge the times we live in while still hoping for something a little bit better.”
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Even if attendees only escape reality for a few hours, the mini getaway is worth it, Tooley said.
“We want people to know there is a reality beyond what they’re seeing on social media,” she said. “It’s a really incredible experience.”
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