Modern Griots Recap: The Black Aquatic and Afrofuturism

Edgar Arceneaux’s “slave Ship Zong” Series at Studio Museum

We often imagine exploration into worlds beyond ours in outer space, but what about the mysterious depths of the watery underground, of utopian worlds like Drexciya or Atlantis. Below are notes from the panel featuring Jared Richardson, Alexander Weheliye and Edgar Arceneaux:


*Displacement and collective memory

*Azealia Banks, queerness and fluid sexuality in blackness in relation to the ungendering of blackness

*The lack of discussion of gender and sexuality, and black femininity and sexuality in traditional black aquatic studies (critiques of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, Drexciya and other male dominated spaces).

*Black female sexuality, hybridity (Mami Wata, mermaids)



*The abyss of the ship and ocean produced unique knowledge (black prophetic tradition, double consciousness, black imagination, second sight; the oceanic condition of possibility being suspended between spaces)

*Relationships between the slave ship, mothership, Black Star Line, and pirate ship; relationships between Black Atlantic, Black Aquatic and Black Queerness; relationships between Atlantis, Drexciya and Canaan.

*Tensions between fluidity of ocean and geopolitical struggles/borders

*Critiquing the Drexciya myth’s feature of the obligation placed on feminized bodies to be “incubators.” Gender conventions in our society may not work in an underwater world.

*Resistance is much larger than hyper-male-oriented aggressive insurgency (in response to lack of mention of slave insurrections like Amistad); survival and imagination are part of that resistance.


*Fluidity of technology (used for creation or destruction; sound machines in techno were once used in military) and sound (ephemeral and material)

*The Underground Resistance and Submerged Records; humans as extensions of machines and sound waves.

*Sao Tome, the Zong ship crash and the Angolares shipwreck descendents legend.

*Thinking about the ocean and blackness could involve discussions about environmental racism and gentrification.

Works Referenced:


Pons’ “Spoken Softly with Mama” (irons as ships) Source: Nashville Scene

Wangechi Mutu’s Nguva

Krista Franklin’s “Voyage Whose Chartings Are Unlove

Edgar Arceneaux’s “Slave Ship Zong,” “The Slave Ship Zong Massacre 1781 Malady Mythology II” and “A Time to Break Silence

Ellen Gallagher’s “Watery Ecstatic” (more images), “Osedax” and “Blubber” (“Fish, Freud and Feminine Beauty in the Art of Ellen Gallagher“)

María Magdalena Campos Pons’ “Speaking Softly with Mama” and other works

Radcliffe Bailey’s Altered Destiny, “Garvey’s Ghost” and “Winward Coast

Howardena Pindell’s “Autobiography: Water/Ancestors Middle Passage/Family Ghosts

Kapwani Kiwanga’s “Atlantide



Underground Resistance/Mad Mike

Jeff Mills’ “Atlantis

Isley Brothers’ “Journey to Atlantis

Sun Ra’s “Atlantis

K’naan’s “Somalia” (piracy)

Jayz and Frank Ocean’s “Oceans


Azaelia Banks’ “Atlantis

Fugees’ “Fu-gee-la” (refugee boat at end of video)

Rihanna’s “Pour It Up


Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Natasha Tinsley’s “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage

Hortense Spillers’ “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe

Sigmund Freud’s Oceanic Feeling

Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic

Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage

Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation

Plato’s Atlantis

Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness

My own addition: Frank B Wilderson’s Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (hold of the ship and the fantasy of flight)

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