What is Afrofuturism and why is it important?

The art genre Afrofuturism is making a comeback. Although the mix of sci-fi, technology and black culture has been around for some time, the genre is getting more attention as a way to envision a future in today's climate of social injustice. So what is Afrofuturism?

The artistic, musical and literary movement is often traced back to jazz composer and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra, who, in college in the 1930s, had a hallucinatory experience in which he was abducted, brought to planet Saturn and shown a prophetic future.

But term Afrofuturism was first used by critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future,” which examined why there were so few black science fiction writers at the time, given the genre’s inextricable links to the other and life on the margins.

About the lack of black sci-fi authors, Dery wrote, "This especially perplexing in the light of the fact that African Americans, in a real sense, are the descendants of alien abductees; they inhabit a sci-fi nightmare in which unseen but no less impassable force fields of intolerance frustrate their movement; official histories undo what has been done; and technology is too often brought to bear on black bodies."

Video: Afrofuturism mixes sci-fi and social justice. Here’s how it works.

Video: Robots of Brixton is a sci-fi animation by Bartlett School of Architecture graduate Kibwe Tavares in which a downtrodden robot workforce battles with police against a backdrop of dystopian architecture in scenes reminiscent of the 1981 Brixton riots in London.

What is Afrofuturism?

In a panel discussion, Ytasha Womack, the author of Afrofuturism: the World of Black Sci-Fi Fantasy and Fantasy Culture, explains the concept: "Afrofuturism deals with black people being told they must adhere to divisions which don’t exist, and only accept a limited number of stories about ourselves, such that we have an extremely limited concept of what material reality can be. Racism can give black Americans the impression that in the past we were only slaves who did not rebel; that in the present, we are a passive people beaten by police who cannot fight back; and that in the future, we simply do not exist. "

Performance artist, designer and educator D. Denenge Akpe defines it as, "Afro-Futurism as a topic has to do primarily with blacks in the Diaspora but also the whole of African consciousness. Afro-Futurism considers what “Blackness” and “liberation” could look like in the future, real or imagined. It is rooted in history and African cosmologies, using pieces of the past, both technological and analog, to build the future. " 

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