It is written that the term “Afrofuturism” was coined in 1994 by U.S. critic Mark Dery in an essay titled, Black to the Future. From my understanding, the term was utilized in the context of recognizing that there was a shortage of black science fiction writers. Since then the term appears to have taken on a life of its own. I have seen varied definitions associated with it, but the short definition is, “Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens”. It would not be until mid 2018 that I would become familiar with this term. I had recently started a series of artwork titled, HEADLINE NEWS: 2037. In the artwork, the narrative is that on December 7, 2037 newspapers throughout the U.S. will headline that scientists have discovered that melanin within the black body has the capacity to heal, beautify, relieve stress and extend life within others. A friend who I shared work samples with to review immediately identified artwork as being, Afrofuturism.
Anyone that have been receiving FIND ART for the last 10 - 15 years are most likely aware of my desire… or dream may be a more appropriate word, to be involve in an arts movement or anything resembling one. On more than one occasion, I have editorialized my romantic feelings and thoughts of being involved in the likes of; the Harlem Renaissance, Surrealism, Romanticism, Symbolism and any other variation of ism’s. Upon hearing that the series of artwork that I was creating could very well be associated with such, I immediately started a level of research to acquire more information.
In addition to venturing to Wikipedia, there is a multitude of information on the web, including videos, that I have rummaged through to attain more information. I have attended at least one art exhibition thus far under its banner to better familiarize myself with its particulars. I have even gone as far as to submit segments from my HEADLINE NEWS: 2037 series, in response to an artist’s call with a focus on Afrofuturistic art. My intent was to see if my artwork qualify by others standards to fit under the banner of Afrofuturism – I was more than thrilled when artwork was selected for entry.
For me, the research has been both interesting and rather intriguing. Primarily because it reveals that recording artists that I had listened to and authors that I have read in the past are considered amongst some of the first to be identified with this movement. I have seen Sun Ra perform before his transition. I have witnessed Parliament Funkadelic and their “Mother Ship” more times than I should admit (thanks to older siblings) and I have read Octavia Butler’s, Wild Seed - a really surreal and sensational piece of literature in my opinion. For years I have followed the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was a contemporary of mine (although we lived in different worlds… and he ascended to heights that I can only imagine… but I do continue to imagine). With that said, it was lyrics and song of Jimi Hendrix (name not mentioned above, but in other Afrofuturistic writings), who captured a sense of Afrofuturism within me the most. It was his music that I’d listen to as an impressionable teenager that had the power to elevate me from whatever sense of “normalcy” that I was experiencing and transcend me to an alternate universe. Songs or albums such as, First Ray of the New Rising Sun, Third Stone from the Sun, Voodoo Child, Machine Gun (an anti-Vietnam song), and last but certainly not least, 1983… (A merman I Should Turn to Be)… that was released in 1968. His songs as well as other musicians, authors and simply living in a society that in my opinion warranted change, help encourage and foster the basic structure towards Afrofuturism within me - although I was totally unaware of the influence. A few years afterwards, upon entering college my interest in Ancient Africa/Egypt would start to emerge and my artwork would take on an Afrocentric slant, which is slightly different from most African-American artists (most choose to shine light on deprivation caused from racism… and rightly so. It is an issue that thus far always warrant addressing). My focus however, has been dedicated to two areas: highlighting historical and religious inaccuracies as applied to those of African descent, and incorporating positive imagery and energy from Africa’s great past and infusing it within a contemporary context, in an effort or desire to assist with motivating viewers to move forward in more positive and meaningful ways.
In my short but deep-dive on the subject, I have to admit that with all the variations of what Afrofuturism is and what it can be, it is not easily defined. From my research it can manifest as visual art (old and/or new), literature (old and/or new), music (old and/or new), music videos, theater, costume design, personal style, as well as ones state-of-being, and the impetus of it all was a recognition and perhaps a recommendation for more black hero’s to be featured in comic books – an interesting sidebar here is that the word hero is derived from the name of the black God, Heru, one of the most revered and idealized Gods of Ancient Africa/Egypt. Although my research on Afrofuturism has been limited, for all intent and purposes, it appears to have the potential to be essentially all encompassing. Its growth potential or trajectory can be compared to that of a huge family tree rooted in Africa’s great past, with branches in art, science, philosophy, history, astronomy, etc.… with a collective interest and emphasis on the creation of a brighter future.
Since Afrofuturism’s inception in 1994, by all account it appeared to simmer, percolate and spark for 25 years, forming pockets of energy within various communities of African-American artists throughout the U.S.. However, the recently released block buster movie, Black Panther lifted the term of Afrofuturism exponentially and overnight not only made it a household name within the arts community, but a symbol to aspire to. As for my introduction to Afrofuturism… although it has been a short introduction and fact-finding period, for now I welcome it with open arms. Despite the fact that I may be relegated to the senior section, like some starry-eyed teen anticipating his first kiss with all the imagined love, laughter and adventure to follow, I feel that I have finally found a movement, a philosophy and a calling that I can call home. I only hope that my degree of contribution will align with my desire to be involved. We will see what the future brings.