Posts tagged afrofuturism
Posts tagged afrofuturism
D. Scot Miller: I would consider myself primarily an AfroSurrealist with an AfroFuturist background. Due to my work with giovanni singleton and Nocturnes Literary (Re)View, I was invited to be a member of the original list-serve group with folks like Alondra Nelson, DJ Spooky, and Tracie Moore when Mark Dery coined the term Afro-futurism in the mid-90s.
INTERVIEW: THE STUDIO MUSEUM HARLEM
The artistic cultural production and cultural theory that is Afrofuturism has long used the fantastical and Science Fiction elements of robotics and aliens, to solve the inequality of colonialism by transcending the social limitations of Black Diasporic life in Western society. Although appearing cosmically perfect, it cannot be denied that Afrofuturism’s history is far from utopic: the trauma of the African transatlantic slave trade, W.E.B Du Bois’ emphatic theory of double-consciousness, Zora Neale Hurston’s iconic folklore depicting humor amidst trauma, Sun Ra’s militant blaxploitation music and imagery, Octavia Butler’s equivocal writings on outsider aesthetics, and lets not forget thesouthernplayalisticcadillacfunkymusic of OutKast. Resilient, AfroFuturists have owned, analyzed, deconstructed, and re-coded their joy and pain, and those of their ancestors, to re-imagine the African Diasporian future—free from Western social stigmas.
For decades, Afrofuturism was publicly linked to literature and music; and yet recently, a courtship has begun with fine art. On November 14th The Studio Museum in Harlem took the helm and debuted its Afrofuturist exhibition, “The Shadows Took Shape.” We at Saint Heron are no strangers to Afrofuturism as emerging and Saint Heron featured artists, Kelela, BCKingdom, Sampha, have strains of Afrofuturist aesthetics coded within their work, so it was a pleasure to speak with the curators, Naima J. Smith and Zoe Whitley, on Afrofuturist activism, the theme of flight throughout African American history, and accidental Afrofuturists. Set amidst the backdrop of a sensitive and rich history, like a griot “The Shadows Took Shape“ exhibition and the Saint Heron interview navigates through rough terrain to tell an ever-evolving story of a new Black frontier.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AT SAINTHERON.COM
Photo: Robert Pruitt, “Untitled 3″
Detroit electro-techno outfit Drexciya was conceived in 1989, but first came into the public eye in 1994 with “Aquatic Invasion” - the first of a thematic series of releases. Drexciya’s James Stinson and Gerald Donald remained hidden behind their alias for much of the group’s existence, communicating a complex personal mythology of a “Drexciyan” race of underwater dwellers descended from pregnant slave women thrown overboard during trans-Atlantic deportation. Within this fiction, their music - which they claimed was recorded “live in the studio” rather than programmed - was imagined as a “dimensional jumphole” between their black African roots and the contemporary USA.
I’m not sure how to describe my experience here so far. I’ve been searching for words but I’m trouble seeing and so when I phone home it’s hard for my family to understand. All I know is that things are heavy. All I know is what I see—color and the possession it has over the bodies here. When I ask the bodies here to speak with me about the relationship between colors and plasticians and the power they have they look at me as if I’m not speaking their language. So I check my words and how I’m using them. I’m here juggling them, placing and replacing just to make sure that I’m saying what I want to say. Needless to say I’ve been paranoid asking myself if it’s me or them. Could it be that they really do not see? Do they not want to see? Or is it that they don’t know how to speak?
I need to understand so I can float again. I couldn’t afford a shrink which seems to only exist on the top level of this world where the white is dominant over the bodies. I look up and all the bodies float across the blues with plasticians dangling from them. Down here I’m in the middle between black and white where plasticians cross to get from one level to the next. Good news is that I finally learned that the plastician I’m wearing ran into me on it’s way from black to white or white to black…I can’t really remember. But anyways, I don’t have enough green for a shrink so I had to find other ways. I found some space even though it was just a sliver. I squeezed between the static so I could cast my word net out into the space hoping to catch some responses.
I was a bit overwhelmed by some of the responses I got and I think it’s because some were questions on top of my questions. One of the responses sat in my mind for a long time and I had to really move with it in order to organize my words and still I’m not sure if it is right. Anyways, one of the letters began with:
You ask the impossible—to request that a living breathing figure (myself) to aid a fictional character (Confuserella).
My Response: I see myself and understand that I am real but at the same time I understand I am fiction since I haven’t been able to yet figure out how to get rid of this plastician that has taken over me. The real me has begun to merge with this plastician so much that it is hard to control what other’s such as yourself see.
The letter went on to explain the body’s hesitance to help me:
In this culture, I am read as a white person and I have received those benefits (of a doubt, And then some). There is a bad legacy of Whites assuming what African-Americans needed; there is a terrible history of Caucasians telling everyone else what to do. Perhaps, I wonder if I join that legacy. But does Confuserella make her request as a galactic alien or does this request come from something more complicated then that, more ambivalent…where race and alien-ation are hand in hand? I think so. So I skirt this. I ask what is the path between strangers.
I am sorry that white has possessed your body in this way that causes you to question your ability to help. When I got here I began to see that black had possessed me also and as an offshoot plasticians that seemed to fill the pools and pockets of this massive blackness that it is hard to believe that only these plasticians fill this space. It seems like a barrier that is beyond me. I come to you as I am and nothing more and nothing less. You are as alien to me as I am to you and “race” and “alien-ation” are things I feel apply to all of us bodies in one way or another as we traverse the spacenet looking for space.
For the rest of this letter and other responses I got check out my capsule. So yeah I do hope that more bodies will respond to this space I created. After I was done though I felt a surge of lightness and once I finished the heaviness came back on me like a pile of bricks. I have to investigate that relationship a little more…squeezing into this space scares me while at the same time gives me hope. That’s good right?
Believing that tools of self-determination lie within creative practices, The Laundromat Project uses the space of local coin-ops to provide communities of color living on modest incomes with broad access to visual art as a tool of personal and social transformation.
Over the course of several weeks, artists Sukjong Hong & Kameelah Rasheed exchanged email fragments, excerpts and other process notes on time-traveling Harriet Tubman, redaction, productive haunting, chopping and screwing time, the archive as a site of power, and the possibilities of science fiction for marginalized communities.
October 11, 2013–March 9, 2014
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 4th Floor
Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey is the first survey in the United States of this internationally renowned, Brooklyn-based artist. Spanning from the mid-1990s to the present, the exhibition unites more than fifty pieces, including Mutu’s signature large-scale collages as well as video works, never-before-seen sketchbook drawings, a site-specific wall drawing, and sculptural installations.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu scrutinizes globalization by combining found materials, magazine cutouts, sculpture, and painted imagery. Sampling such diverse sources as African traditions, international politics, the fashion industry, pornography, and science fiction, her work explores gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the exoticization of the black female body. Mutu is best known for spectacular and provocative collages depicting female figures—part human, animal, plant, and machine—in fantastical landscapes that are simultaneously unnerving and alluring, defying easy categorization and identification. Bringing her interconnected ecosystems to life for this exhibition through sculptural installations and videos, Mutu encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.
John Akomfrah, director of Seven Songs of Malcolm X, returns with an engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology.
This cinematic essay posits science fiction (with tropes such as alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering) as a metaphor for the Pan-African experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness.
Akomfrah’s analysis is rooted in an exploration of the cultural works of Pan-African artists, such as funkmaster George Clinton and his Mothership Connection, Sun Ra’s use of extraterrestrial iconography, and the very explicit connection drawn between these issues in the writings of black science fiction authors Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler.
Cosmic Ghost at the Museum: Notes from Kindred Book Club @studiomuseum #theshadowstookshape #octaviabutler #kindred
Rasheedah introduced us to her thoughts on the book, talking about the mechanisms, agency and significance of time travel in Kindred. She spoke of how she considered the immaterial methods that pulled the protagonist Dana, from her reality and into the antebellum past, was like an act of abduction (kidnapping) and that the question of who controlled this life changing act (Dana or Rufus) was also significant, in both examples, alluding to the realities of the slave trade and the slave plantation system. She elaborated on the idea that Octavia Butler challenged and subverted the well-known “Grandfather Paradox” trope in science fiction. Rasheedah described how the paradox, which in its most base definition, negates the possibility of time travel and is often predicated as a way to prevent a future evil, is actually turned on its heels by Butler, because of the fact that Dana has to continuously save the life of her ancestor, in order for him to commit the evil act that will preserve her own existence. She spoke about how this technique actually returned agency to Dana, giving her a semblance of choice, as harsh as it may have seemed, of whether to live or die.
John then turned to his thoughts on Kindred, as not so much a science fiction text, but more an “ethno-gothic” story. He combined ideas of the American South as a “haunted space” in reference especially to the Black experience. He spoke of the symbolic reading of the Black body as a text, especially in reference to Dana, a modern Black woman who finds herself mis-read as a slave by her ancestors, and who eventually has to re-write her body text in order to survive in the past. This form of “stereotyping” of Dana by her ancestors, he describes as a continuous proliferation of an idea, which occurs through writing and publishing. He elaborates with the example of a palimpsest, where he speaks of the “KUNTOBY” process. In this example, he refers to the scene in the television series, Roots, where Kunta Kinte – the “African”, is literally beaten or re-written, into becoming Toby – the slave, by the overseer and the whip. This form of Black “body horror”, in this “gothic space” becomes the “ethno-gothic”.
Read more, and see some of John’s Kindred illustrations(!), at M. Asli Dukan’s (Invisible Universe Documentary) blog
Ignited at the intersection of social commentary and imagination, the cultural undercurrent of Afrofuturism critiques and examines Black subjectivity through the lens of science-fiction. Popularized by such musicians as Sun Ra, George Clinton and, most recently, Janelle Monáe, the Afrofuturist aesthetic has come into conversation amongst a new generation of youth and young adults that literally experience the world as cyborgs, both existing in person and as their online avatars via social media.
I recently sat down with interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco, best known for her traveling performance piece with Mexican artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña titled “Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West,” a professor at the New School University currently teaching an undergraduate class on Afrofuturism. With our interview, I learned about what inspires the constellation of artists envisioning new forms through which to communicate the experiences of Black identity.
When did you first encounter Afrofuturism? What interests you about it?
Well, I first learned about Afrofuturism because friends of mine and colleagues of mine in England who are Black-British filmmakers and critics were working on a film called The Last Angel of History…and were looking at an undercurrent in post-war Black thought and cultural production, and also futuristic imagery in Black music with Sun Ra, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and George Clinton. In these three different strains of music—in reggae, soul, and jazz—you have these three great figures in the history of Black contemporary music all working in different places in the world, not knowing each other, and yet all developing this futuristic imagery, and also combining that futuristic imagery in some cases with studio-produced sound.
Who are other Afrofuturist artists, across mediums, that you’ve encountered?
Well, I’ve asked students to read Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders, and last year when I did the course we bought in Nalo Hopkinson, who’s a Jamaican-Canadian sci-fi and speculative fiction writer. In the class right now we’ve just finished a whole section on the Planet of the Apes movies, which were not made by Black directors, but they are understood to be social commentary from the world of sci-fi on the race relations in the United States during a very intense period of conflict. We’ve looked at the use of the vocoder by early groups like Zapp, looked back to Afrika Bambaataa and the mechanization of the dancing Black body, we read the prologue to Invisible Man, we watched Brother from Another Planet and spoke about the escaped slave and the alien, and we’ve also talked about Lil Wayne’s song “Phone Home.”
How have you seen Afrofuturist work develop or change over time?
In more recent interpretations of Afrofuturist sensibilities there are more specific critiques of things and it’s more rooted in social criticism. But with something like Janelle Monae’s videos where she’s mimicking Metropolis, it’s hard to pinpoint what she’s criticizing. In interviews that she gave a few years ago she spoke about how she really identified with Black working-class people, that her tux is like a uniform, that her parents always had to work in uniforms. She had a lot of respect for these masses of people that basically make the world go round. That vision of a dystopic world of endless uniformed labor is very much a sci-fi vision.
Many different Afrofuturist artists identify as aliens, and Janelle Monáe refers to herself as an android. What do you think inspires these personas?
The argument that people who know much more about Afrofuturism than I do, like Greg Tate, have made for a long time is that the history of Blacks in the New World is sci-fi made reality. In other words, the population in the world that experienced alien abduction, destruction of identity, destruction of their world—all these kinds of scenarios of sci-fi, were Black people in the Diaspora. Being looked at as an alien, being treated as an alien, being stripped, going to another planet—here are real world scenarios and here are fictional scenarios; where are the connections?
April 30, 2013
There are differences and sameness on some accounts within cyberfeminism versus afrofuturistfeminism, I’ll quickly list the basics.
Cyber Feminists and Afrofuturist Feminists agree that Western Marxist/socialist/radical feminism, rooted in class conflict and gender roles to create a naturalize unity amongst women left no room in their structure for race, therefore for decades othering the Black body within feminism.
In an effort to keep this portion short since most futurist feminists are familiar with Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” cyber feminism is rooted in science/machine/technology/genderlessness; it sees Science Fiction as post-modernist and the group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of White Capitalist Patriarchy versus Informatics of Domination. It imagines a utopian world without an origin and negates gender.
Afrofuturist Feminism is rooted in ethnicity and gender; understanding their African Diasporian continuum, the group sees their supernatural ambiguity to shape-shift in natural and manifested surroundings as a genealogical code that predates post modern Science Fiction. The group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of ethnicity and womanhood versus everything that marginalizes and oppresses their group—including technology if necessary—yet, it openly embraces technology as a choice, and not as the final option, to further the African Diasporian continuum.
Afrofuturist Feminists do not negate their history as the group works on a continuum of past, present, future and must utilize the Sankofa principle of “it is not wrong for one to go back and take that which they have forgotten” or “simply go back and take,” therefore, they do not imagine a world without gender nor genesis. Simply put: Afrofuturist Feminists embrace ethnicity with technology, as long as technology doesn’t seek to marginalize the group, they do not need to eradicate the Black or female body nor the history it has witnessed. Utopianism for the group is keeping the Black female body by choice, and the body cohabitates with the world around it without being othered. Note, Afrofuturist Feminists shape-shift so, hybridization, including robotics, etc, may occur, but it’s not a permanent state that solely negates the Black female body.
A meditation on Afro-futurism and Jamaica’s contribution to it…