Afrofuturism: Space Noir
By: Bruce Kent
Afrofuturism a term first utilized in 1993, by Mark Dery in an essay entitled Black To The Future. In the essay Dery goes in to explain how there was a new wave of sci-fi themed Black Art that began making its way into the art world. Afrofuturism can be described as the artistic, scientific, and spiritual practices that are shown throughout the African diaspora yet extend into the contemporary black culture. Afro-futurism has a strong connection to the other. The other is the other side or where dark matter resides. The other can also refer to the other side of life which many Black people experience. This is the experience of being an alien in your own land. In some instances we are alien because of things like the slave trade; Black Americans had become traumatized. Some Arfofuturists today are Joshua Mays, Cyrus Kabiru, Kristin Franklin, Eric Crawford etc. Afrofuturism is a genre that expresses such trauma by taking the individual away from the everyday norms and suspending them in complete imagination by using themes derived from african cultures, and ancient african civilization.
The bridge between the society we live in and the imaginary realm that one would called Science Fiction is where Afrofuturism resides. One can then touch on certain political issues within the art itself in a way that is conducive to the lives of contemporary black Americans. One Afrofuturist is Sun Ra; who blatantly said he is not of this planet he was derived from Saturn. Sun Ra was musician that specialized in afro-funk, jazz, and funky rhythms and sounds. His music was definitely out of this world. Ra saw that the ways of American society did not support black people and his only gateway to escape his situation was through his music. Art becomes an escape for many artist and communicates to the world about the psyche/soul of the individual or the group such artist represents. Other prominent Afrofuturists are Janelle Monae, Outkast, and Ras G. One could even argue strongly that Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar can be considered Afrofuturists also.
In the art there are heavy science fiction futuristic themes in play within the art. There black people who travel to distant lands, have supernatural abilities and fly in jet packs. This is the way the afrofuturist seeks to break away from his everyday mundane reality and see himself or help other see themselves as the heroes. Black Americans have been seen as the villains for too long, which adds to the appeal. This notions that blacks are the other and villains only makes the work of an afrofuturist that much stronger and that much more appealing. It has the ability to take on very serious conversations while at the same time adding an jaunty feeling to the works.
Afro-futurism is not only confined to art and music, but it also extends well into literature, film, and political systems. In some ways Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were afrofuturists themselves. DuBois in his book Souls of Black Folk explained that the Black person living in America had to souls, or dual consciousness. This dual consciousness leads one to believe that they are alien, or other worldly because they could not exist in the constructs that the machine has set in place for them. The only thing keeping the black body alive is its pure will to survive and the arts and music that it has to express in its two warring heads.
Afrofuturism is alive and well. If you want to meet artists who participate and are interested in the genre, there is a show on Friday, September 9th at the Maywood Park District (Maywood Park District 921 S 9th Ave, Maywood, Illinois 60153). The show is hosted by The Mosaik, check out the event's Facebook page. The show is called Space Noir it will be a show dedicated to Afrofuturism. Come support local artists and enjoy the scene.
Art is life. Art is community. Art is You.