Before the lives and times of the King T’Challa and the people of Wakanda, before the release and subsequent successes of Black Panther, the existence of the word “Afrofuturism” had been confined to the fringes of popular cultural conversations.
In its sparse existence, it usually came in company of Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor whose works – from her speculative fiction series ‘Binti’ and to her Novel ‘Who Fears Death’ – has explored this theme extensively.
There are times too that it might have appeared elsewhere, perhaps in discussions of Jay-Z’s “Family Feud” video or discussions on Janelle Monae’s music. But it was not until the arrival of the people of Wakanda with their flying cars, their light rails, and their afrofuturist costumes, that Afrofuturism and its implications became necessarily an integral part of our conversations.
Although there had been earlier manifestations of Afrofuturism, as is seen in the works of Jean-Michael Basquat’s paintings like Molasses (1983) and Sun Ra’s (1950s) music, the term was not coined until 1994 when culture critic Mark Derry referred to it as an aesthetic that infuses science fiction and fantasy with cultures of the Africa diaspora.
The responses of African-Americans to a history of slavery, racism and other forms of oppression has manifested itself largely in the Arts: from music to paintings, blacks from time have expressed their pains through concepts and ideas. It is this same vein that Afrofuturism can be looked: as a response to the lived realities of blacks in the past and in the present.
Mark Derry in his 1994 essay Black To The Future asks “Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners and set designers – white to a man – who have engineered our collective fantasies?”
Afrofuturism, by reimagining futures that unapologetically celebrates the uniqueness and innovation of black culture; by building new truths outside the dominant cultural truths, engages Derry’s questions.
Take the video for Jay-Z’s Family Feud for example. By imagining a future of robotics/high-tech and a future ruled predominantly by black women, the director the video, Ava DuVernay, used afrofuturistic themes like feminism and sci-fi to convey the artist’s message in the song. Also, like Black Panther, Ava’s latest picture “A Wrinkle In Time” which was recently released in the theatre also extensively explores afrofuturism.
While afrofuturism has predominantly been in the US – as can be seen the works of Octavia Butler in literature, Janelle Monae and Jay-Z in music, and many others – African artists are joining the train now. Founder of arts and animation company Kigali, Fikayo Adeola, told the CNN “Afrofuturism roots are very much African-American but there has been a new renaissance in Africa with people people trying to create works of science fiction that are inspired by our culture and aesthetics.”
In his recent collection, designer Maindrag xyz uses afrofuturistic quotes from famous people to convey the message.
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As an aesthetic that’s just gaining traction, and with the successes of “Black Panther” and potentially that of “A wrinkle in time”, the possibilities with Afrofuturism is limitless.
Creative Direction; NSPK
Afrofuturism Tees by Maindrag Xyz