Resistance Monument uses AR to show Khor Fakkan's fight against 16th-century colonialists

A new museum within the monument implements AR technology to complement its exhibition of antique objects, dioramas and models of old ships

The central character of the AR experience, Ali, was inspired by the 2020 film Khorfakkan. Issa AlKindy for The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A new museum in Khor Fakkan highlights the Sharjah enclave's fight against Portuguese colonial forces in the 16th century, utilising augmented reality to bring the historic resistance to life.

The museum, which opened on Tuesday, is a permanent highlight at the Resistance Monument. With antiques, dioramas, models of old ships and AR technology, it tells the story of how Khor Fakkan made a stand against the Portuguese invasion in 1507.

The port city was captured and became part of a series of fortified cities that the Portuguese used to control access to the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. However, the local resistance against the colonising army has become an esteemed pocket of Khor Fakkan’s history.

The Resistance Monument itself honours the local tribes’ efforts in rallying against the Portuguese troops led by Commander Afonso de Albuquerque, an indomitable enemy who participated in the North African crusades and whose career ambition was to divert the course of the Nile in order to leave Egypt barren.

The museum within the monument starts off with a 1:250 scale model of Khor Fakkan as it looked in the early 16th century. Holding up one of the in-house iPads reveals the town’s people walking across the narrow alleys and going about their day-to-day lives. Soon, the AR app guides viewers to one of the windows of the space, where a boy by the name of Ali stands, claiming to spot a fleet of approaching ships.

Walking to the model of an old Portuguese ship, guests suddenly catch a glimpse of armoured soldiers standing on deck. The AR app then heads back to town as its population begins to prepare to withstand the Portuguese onslaught. The next part of the story features Ali as an adult, armed and ready to fight the occupying army.

The character of Ali was inspired from the 2020 film Khorfakkan, which in itself was adapted from the 2004 historical novel Deep-Seated Malice by Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. Both the film as well as the original book were key resources for Fifth Wall Immersive Media Lab in Sharjah as they tailored the AR experience.

“We referenced the book,” Sohail Dahdal, founder and creative director of Fifth Wall Immersive Media Lab, says.

“Everything within the AR is backed by historical fact. After all, we’re in a museum and we have to respect that authenticity. The AR experience is a very good addition, because you can go through the museum without the AR experience. So you’re not losing the sanctuary of the museum, we’re just adding to it.”

While the AR can only be viewed through one of the museum’s in-house devices, Dahdal says there are plans to update the experience as AR technology becomes more widely available.

“At the moment, there’s a barrier and people don’t want to download apps [to access the AR],” Dahdal says. He adds that there are plans by Apple to embed AR kits into the iPhone iOS, and when that happens, it will be much easier to access the experience without having to download proprietary software.

Dahdal also points out the complexities of tailoring an uninterrupted and cohesive AR experience within a museum space. Nothing quite of this magnitude had been developed before, he added.

Sohail Dahdal speaks about the AR experience of the Resistance Monument's museums during its opening. Issa AlKindy for The National

“The fact that you can have a big space like this and understand the targets of the space, making sure that the software puts something accurately metres away on a ship, it's never done before,” he says. “People have already done things where they put augmented reality objects in a museum but never with this accuracy. Even when speaking with the manufacturers of the software in Germany, they said no one has pushed the technology to that level.”

Also a filmmaker, Dahdal says it was important to present the AR not merely as a novelty feature but as an immersive tool of storytelling, which can help visitors engage with Khor Fakkan’s history.

“Technology has to be for the service of the story,” he says. “Not the other way around. We crafted the script and built the character of Ali from the movie Khorfakkan. In a way, it is also an AR teaser for the film, which visitors can watch in the theatre space.”

Sharjah Museums is considering implementing AR technology in more heritage-related museums. Issa AlKindy for The National

Manal Ataya, director-general of the Sharjah Museums Authority, says the AR aspect of the museum also helps instil a deeper understanding of how grave and impactful the Portuguese invasion was for the local population.

“It helps grasp the seriousness of it, but also the emotions and historical context of a moment that was very significant in the history of Sharjah,” she says. “The movie was the first window into it, seeing the characters, hearing the sounds and seeing what happened based on the research by His Highness into Portuguese documents and other resources.”

The museum and its AR component aim to provide an additional layer of engagement for those interested in learning more about the emirate’s history and colonial struggle.

“When you’re here, you begin to imagine those characters as real people who can tell you about what happened that day. Cannons were being fired and the Portuguese started fires in the village,” she says.

The implementation of AR into the museum at the Resistance Monument is only the first step of how Sharjah Museums could utilise the technology, especially in sites that touch upon local heritage.

“The technology is just the beginning of something we can expand on, experiment and play with. We have a lot of other heritage-related museums that, because they were built [to depict life] 100 or 200 years ago, it’s hard to imagine where people had been sitting or what they would have been doing.

“We can create experiences of just people having coffee, talking politics or reciting poetry, and imagine what their daily life would have looked like.”

Updated: March 20, 2023, 10:54 AM