Search results for ‘"what is afrofuturism"’

What Is Afrofuturism? Part 17: Decentering Cultural Space in Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism as an aesthetic and critical lens is known for its analyses and strategies of decentering and revising norms and stereotypes about race, gender, sexuality and class, but as Afrofuturism is expanding, there are other areas, besides the ones mentioned before, to still be worked on like issues of globalism (“the neoliberal vision of homogenising the planet”).

Is this ratchet/hoodrat stuff or futuristic? Source: Hoodfuturism

Going through the tag on afrofuturism on tumblr, conversations have been brewing about whether there is a need for a label for urban afrofuturism or hoodfuturism (here is one explanation). Some say no because afrofuturism is an all-encompassing term, whereas others say yes because it highlights specific subcultures and specific critical analyses of those cultures that may go unnoticed. In that respect, I have to agree more with later. Although afrofuturism is an umbrella term, much like blackness, there are specific identities and localities of being within it. Depending on where you are or where you come from, afrofuturism may have a different local ethno-cultural aesthetic (and issues of class may come into this as well).

This is not only a problem within afrofuturism, but overall. Dr. Yaba Blay mentioned in an interview with W. Kamau Bell on Totally Biased about the confusion between black and African-American and how Americans immediately conflate black with being specifically U.S. Black American. As a Ghanaian-American, she says, “African-American to me really reflects a type of American narcissism in a particular way.” And she is not disrespecting the label of African-American, she is highlighting a specific ethnic, cultural locality. A lot of members on tumblr have also been in arguments over this kind of American and Western centralism.

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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, The My-Stery


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 16: Nettrice Gaskins

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, but I enjoyed reading Nettrice’s post, including the pictures, so here is some of it below with a link to read the rest:

Sun Ra: His system was based at the center of the sun.”Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control. One is tied up in a web, in a net, with no way to struggle free. Only by having clear and vital images of the many alternatives, good and bad, of where one can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring all too quickly.”—Samuel R. Delany

One of the questions posed to me after my talk last Friday regarding The Cyclical Nature of Culture was: What is afrofuturism?

  • It’s not the black version of Futurism. It is an aesthetic and the term can be used to describe a type of artistic and cultural community of practice. Afrofuturism navigates past, present and future simultaneously. The keyword here is: navigation or ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a specific route.
  • It is counter-hegemonic. Hegemony refers to the dominant, ruling class or system. Afrofuturism is not concerned with the mainstream or the canon of (Western) art history. It’s practitioners upend or flip the canon. In the image above jazz musician and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun) placed himself at the center of other known cosmic philosophers and scientists.
  • It is revisionist, meaning that afrofuturism advocates for the revision of accepted, long-standing views, theories, historical events and movements. It retells stories by altering characters, or the environment. It re-uses existing artifacts, themes and concepts.Take, for example, the Space Age, the Universe, or the Unisphere.

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 15: Proto-Afrofuturists

Here are two articles that present previous movements and writers who influence current Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Fiction:

Afrofuturism as an Extension of the Black Arts Movement:”

…Tracing Afrofuturism back to its roots, several familiar names stand out.

One of those is W.E.B. Dubois, who with his 1920 short story “The Comet” may be the father of Afrofuturism. In “The Comet,” a valued black bank messenger emerges from a vault deep beneath the city to discover that he and the beautiful daughter of a white millionaire are the only people alive after poisonous gasses from a comet’s tail have killed the entire population of Manhattan, Harlem included. Written in, what was for DuBois, middlebrow prose, the story’s ending brings these two handsome people almost together as man and woman: “Silent, immovably, they saw each other face to face, eye to eye. Their souls lay naked to the night.” The story toys tantalizingly with sex across the color line, the great American fictional taboo. Suddenly, rapture is pierced by the honk of a car horn as the millionaire father and fiancee arrive from the uncontaminated suburbs. “I’ve always liked you people. If you ever want a job, call on me,” says the father as he hurries his daughter away from desecration and the city…

Click the link above to read the rest.

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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, Books


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 14: Greg Tate

Writer, musician, and producer Greg Tate speaks at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center on Sept. 15, 2012 as part of the Contemporary Talks series. Tate reads from his manifesto Kalahari Hopscotch, or Notes Toward a 20 Volume History of Black Science and Afrofuturism followed by a Q&A session which includes him mentioning Storyboard P.

Here is another talk, “Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism and Migration” with Greg Tate and John Akomfrah in Germany.


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 13: Wanuri Kahui

Pumzi director, Wanuri Kahui gives a TEDxNairobi lecture about Afrofuturism from different African perspectives.

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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 12: The Mask As Technology

“Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I’m thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it’s our front, it’s our face” – Faith Ringgold

What do we think of when we think of science and technology? Living currently in our hi-tech, digital world with computers, the Internet, techies, and laboratory scientists, many of us separate ourselves from science and technology as if they are not part of our everyday lives. Do we think of things like a mask as technology? I want to explore that idea.

A few weeks ago, I began reading Tempestt Hazel’s Black to the Future Series in which she interviews artists and intellectuals about afrofuturism and afrosurrealism. While reading some of the answers of the interviewees, I recognized a subtle framing of and at times distancing from afrofuturism based on electric and digital technology of the 20th and 21st century. Saying phrases like “I’m not a techie” in a sense undermines how much science and technology are embedded in the creation of our lives and that they have existed longer and have a wider reach than we normally think. As the aesthetic movement of afrofuturism gains recognition, we need to break down the boundaries of what we describe as science and technology.

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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 11: Cosmic Yoruba

Photo- Leeroy Jason

Cosmic Yoruba wrote a piece on Afrofuturism from various African perspectives. Read an excerpt of “’We’ve Been to the Moon and Back:’ Afro-futurism in Music” and the rest at This Is Africa:

Although Afro-futurism doesn’t have one clear-cut definition, for the purpose of this article we’ll go with the one that defines it as a study of science-fiction themes with particular emphasis on the way advances in technology will affect the Black – that is African diasporic – experience. Afro-futurism is a response to any imagined future that excludes Black people, perspectives from Black culture, as well as African history, artists and writers, and those invested in Afro-futurism are attempting to include and represent Black people in the future as they imagine it.

The first person to use the term was apparently Mark Dery, who defined Afro-futurism as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture – and more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced – might, for want of a better term, be called ‘Afro-futurism’.” Afro-futuristic fashion, literature and music boomed especially in the 70s and 80s, envisioning a brighter future for oppressed people.

Nonetheless, Afro-futurism is still an emerging genre, so there isn’t that much information about the subject out there, and what there is is scattered all over the place. Most of the discussions on the subject posit Afro-futurism as solely relating to the African-American experience. However, with the growing interest in the place of science fiction in Africa, and in the way Africans imagine themselves in the future, Afro-futurism is slowly being looked at from the African perspective as well….

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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 11: Makani Themba-Nixon’s Black Future

Below is Mo Barbosa’s introduction and the rest of Themba-Nixon‘s keynote speech,  “Certain Blacks: Future Frames from the Liberated Zone” from the Design Studio for Social Intervention’s Black History Month Series:

Makani Themba is clear black water into which our dreams of ourselves plunge and are rejuvenated, beautiful and full of humanity.  Trails of wisdom dust fall from her curled salt and pepper hair and the force of her analysis pries open eyes and bares our thinking to truth and challenge.  Her rumination on Black Liberation and the Black Future, and on the sequence of the freedom of mind and ass, that is thinking and being, posits the question of Black Freedom.  To it, I add, does black come before freedom? Do our conceptions of either – black as intrinsic, uncreated, a convening identity that brings together people across culture, language and time – and freedom – as an endpoint, a final state beyond the current struggle – dictate a sequence?  And most important, if we are free, does being black matter?

Thus to understand black freedom we must define what is black and what is free.  Makani Themba intimates that the most important work of art is to help people imagine what it is like to be free.  That freedom must become part of our thinking is preceded, possibly, by freedom being imagined, designed, explored, thought about and thought through, felt from the inside and pushed out through the soul.  But what about black.  Black must be imagined in the positive, complete with its legacy and lived experience in tact; formed, inclusive, defined and forward, continually creating itself and connected to the past and the future.

And, to understand “black future” we can place this same black against the imagination and hopes black people have had and the imagined freedom that is placed temporally beyond today and at the end of a perceived struggle.

While we are clear that Black must exist for black future and black freedom to exist; is it also true perhaps, that freedom and future must exist for black to exist.

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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism


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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 10: SteamFunk

T-Pain feat. Tay Dizm – “Never Leave Her”

Balogun Ojetade from Chronicles of Harriet wrote a great post about movements and more specifically, the Steamfunk movement. Here is part of it:

… Steamfunk: A Movement Within A Movement

Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. A broader definition is “a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or  steampunk fiction”.

For an example of writing in the narrow definition, please read the short story Nandi: For an example of writing in the broader definition, please read Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises:, or The Hand of Sa-Seti:

Let us examine Steamfunk and how a movement within a movement was born.

Emergence: Steamfunk was born when several authors of African descent who took a liking to – or, in the cases of a few, even loved – the literary and aesthetic aspects of Steampunk, noticed that there was a deficit of stories by and about Black heroes and she-roes in the movement and – as individuals – they decided they would write Steampunk stories from a Black perspective. Some were also dissatisfied that most Steampunk ignored the “darker” aspects of the Victorian Era, such as colonialism, sexism, classism, racism – and chattel slavery and wanted to write about those aspects in their expressions of Steampunk. Some of those authors include Maurice Broaddus (Pimp My Airship), Milton Davis (The Delivery), Valjeanne Jeffers (The Switch), and Balogun Ojetade (Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman).

Coalescence: On the website,, a discussion of Steampunk came up and the aforementioned authors agreed that we should put together an anthology. Author and publisher Milton Davis, who had published the definitive Sword & Soul anthology, Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, decided to bring thought into action and put out the call for submissions to the Steamfunk Anthology. Author and Steampunk, Balogun Ojetade (yours truly) was brought in to work with Milton Davis as co-editor and the campaign of raising the awareness of the Black expression of Steampunk, which we call Steamfunk, began.

Bureaucratization: The formal organization of the Steamfunk Movement began when – inspired by Milton Davis, organizer of the Atlanta-based Black Speculative Fiction Café – Balogun Ojetade put together a panel on Black Speculative Fiction, with the idea of it leading to an organization that educated people on the richness of work in Black fantasy and science fiction and provided access to said works. For more on this panel discussion, please read: and to view the video recording of the panel discussion in its entirety, please visit:

One of the panelists, Alicia McCalla – librarian and author of the incredible teen dystopian novel, Breaking Free – reached out to other authors and artists of Black speculative work to participate in the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 blog tour. This blog tour led to the formation of a formal organization – State of Black Science Fiction – based in Atlanta, GA, the hub of Black speculative fiction. Steamfunk, Sword and Soul, teen dystopian and young adult fantasy have grown to be the major foci of the group, which educates youth and adults on the history, need for – and benefits of – Black writers and readers in these genres.

Decline: Ain’t gonna happen. Why not? Because it is Steampunk, after all.

Read the rest and also read some of his other posts on Steamfunk/Steampunk as well:

More on the Definition of Steamfunk

Steamfunk and Hip-Hop

African and African American Steampunk

Steampunk in the Mainstream


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What is Afrofuturism? Part 9: Rhythmism

Louis Armstrong – “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue”

For Black Music History Month, I decided to write my own views on Afrofuturism:

A few days ago, I finally started reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and within the first few pages, I could see how Ellison used musicality with his literary work. In fact, Ellison trained to be a musician before becoming a writer. The main character in his book describes his appreciation of Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue” in the prologue:

“Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes you’re behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, the points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And slip into the breaks and look around. That’s what you hear vaguely in Louis’ music…the unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and  waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well…” (page 8).

Within the prologue of his book, Ellison speaks not just of music, but how elements of music like off-beat phrasing, syncopation, breaks, and call and response, are manifested in life in general. Other writers and scholars, like Tricia Rose, Jon Spencer and Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., have said that in order to study the elements of diasporic cultures, music should be the foundation or connecting feature to study them. As a music and journalism major, I tend to agree. I even wrote a thesis involving that idea, which was how percussion and rhythm in hip-hop is not just part of the music, but in the language, movement, spirituality, identity, politics and philosophy of hip-hop. Music is also how I approach afrofuturism.

For example, in Music, Society, Education, musicologist Christopher Small said, “The repetitions of African music have a function in time which is the reverse of [Western classical] music — to dissolve the past and the future into one eternal present, in which the passing of time is no longer noticed.” Thus, it is not just the music, but the cosmology, the philosophy and the perceptions behind the music. I do not see afrofuturism as just speculating about the future, but also as the future as a revisionism. The present and future are only revisions, which means seeing again, of the past. The future becomes the present and the past and what is modern becomes ancient (one reason I have a problem calling our time modernism and post-modernism). This relates to the common practice of “versioning” in our cultures. Another way to put is Amiri Baraka’s “changing same” or Ron Eglash’s “iterative transformations.” The changes develop from a common bases, another element that we emphasize in the music.

This cycling and repetition is not dull, but always dynamic. It has swing and rhythm to push us forward to the future. Paul Watkins describes this in his paper, “Disruptive Dialogics: Improvised Dissonance in Thelonious Monk and Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers As mentioned in the previous post on afrofuturism, William Gibson said that the future is already here, but unevenly distributed. Again, that is in our music; our various music genres are multi-rhythmic and multi-metric. They are uneven, or as Zora Neale Hurston said “asymmetrical.” There are breaks, displacements, dissonance, and fragmentation and those are why the music is exciting. That describes the future as well; it is relative and broken up, flying into different directions. And what is future now will become past, vanishing like sound, and what is ancient now was once modern. It is why calling our periods of time “modernism” and “post-modernism” are misnomers.

These ideas within the music can be applied to other fields of study. Afrofuturist artist Turtel Onli also described his own visual artwork as Rhythmism.”Modern art“, like Picasso’s Cubism, would not have existed if it were not for the almost-living, surreal and rhythmic nature of West and Central African sculptures, textiles and masks from groups like the Dogon, Beti-Pahuin, Bwa, Bambara, and the Baoule. In Black Noise, Tricia Rose said that graffiti art and hip-hop has the same characteristics of layering, flow and rupture. Moreover, in the area of social and cultural theory, W.E.B. Du Bois’ “double consciousness” is rhythmic as writers like Paul Gilroy and Paul D. Miller have acknowledged; it was only new in the context that he was speaking about the plight of being Black in America. Our concept of rhythm can be applied to science and technology as well. We learn of cycling of elements in nature and the transformation of energy, which cannot be created nor destroyed, and we have used those ideas of cycling and transformation in a musical and cultural sense. Within the diaspora, we have invented musical technology to create new genres out of the older ones. Our cultures- from our music to our philosophies- has always been afrofuturistic.

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, Music


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