Article published in The Funambulist 10 (March-April 2017) Architecture & Colonialism. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
Afrofuturism is commonly conceived as a musical and literary movement; an instrument to empower Black folks facing a country within a white systemic frame with no room for them in its historical narration, past or present. The term, first proposed by Mark Dery in a 1995 conversation with Afro-fiction writers, has built itself a genealogy through music, literature, visual arts, fashion, and other forms. From freak genius Le Sony’r Ra’s musical contribution, Afrofuturism has gradually become a label that tends to cover almost all questioning of the future made by people of color.
When I first met it, I felt renewed. Afrofuturism was this inclusive and abundant, diverse and uninhibited, creative and trans (taken literally as crossing) call for global change! Created by and for those who embody otherness and have been marginalized for centuries, Afrofuturism would cater to those of us unwilling to master or seize, but instead perform the world.
Yet, at a certain point I started having doubts. Was my understanding of it accurate or based on personal expectations? Wasn’t it just an impetus circumscribed around a certain “community” (e.g. Black-America, trend prescribers, or intellectual elite)? What was its impact, in effective, tangible, and political terms, apart from the thrilling hope?
To be honest, I’m still digging on that. But for now, here are a few reasons why I believe Afrofuturism is a key methodology to question,if not redefine, our contemporary world. Because Afrofuturism embraces many alternative narratives instead of one that is single and systemic, there’s an opportunity to experiment with what tomorrow will look like.
The Unexpected Legacy of Sun Ra: Branding as Political Statement ///
Sun Ra is one of the first heartfelt and sophisticated examples of self-branding, making his otherness a strength like no one else had before. Dragged by the early race context, Sun Ra saw in the announced “Space Age” of the 1950s a promise for him and Black fellows to finally escape a country that viewed their lives and expectations as irrelevant. Becoming the Saturnian Archangel descendant of the eponymous Egyptian God, he was on a mission to preach peace. Far from fantasy, not only did he officially register his name change, but also suffered from cryptorchidism, and like the angels, didn’t have a sex. As for his Egyptian alien ascendancy, what were African American folks if not that?