So as you know a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be part of the Black Speculative Arts Movement Conference, #BSAMFuturismo2017, at the Bronx Museum of Arts! Well, let me share with you some of the highlights from the day!
*Aesthetics and Actions in Afrofuturism/Black Speculative Thought:
Before I get to the above topic, I wanted to share this film that I had the chance to see — Òrun Aiyê, which was directed by Jamile Coelho and written by Cintia Maria. It is a stop-motion animated film that tells a candomble version of the Yoruba creation story.
Now onto the panel discussion — “25 Years of Afrofuturism & Black Speculative Thought” — featuring Reynaldo Anderson, Mark Dery and Sheree Rene Thomas. One of the important points that was brought up in the discussion was as the movement of “Afrofuturism,” a term introduced by Dery is his essay “Black to the Future,” gains popularity to be wary of the depoliticizing of the movement through empty aestheticism, aka “Art for art’s sake.” He warned of letting Afrofuturism become like taxidermy, where it is skinned and showcased like a trophy, but emptied of life and meaning. Anderson mentioned a mainstream article that had treated Afrofuturism in that way, reducing it down to mostly being about fashion.
Anderson and Thomas reinforced his warning by adding to go further than aesthetics — backing up aesthetics with actions and analyzing local and global politics. Anderson emphasized, as a Caribbean-American person I agree, the need to be more inclusive when it comes to Afrofuturism and Black Speculative thought, looking at it from an Afro-diasporic, pan-African outlook. How does the histories and futures of Africa fit into it, the Caribbean, Central and South America. How do we connect our politics to the politics of the rest of the diaspora. For example, exploring the work of cultural critics and writers like Sylvia Wynter who was from Jamaica. He also stressed the need to break down the elitism and exclusionary nature of liberal ideology often does not reach out to lower-class communities who do not have access to and are not familiar with the terms used in schools, or as he calls it “trickle down ideology.” The ideologies end up not affecting their material realities.
Thomas wanted to make it clear that the past 25 years is only 25 years of a 400 year-long song. As a creative writer, she saw our desire to be free and to write about how we imagined freedom as speculative thought. What she wanted to see going forward was us taking direct actions against our systems of oppression not only discussing it. For example, for her it was the politics of publishing, and as a former bookseller, the need to create our own spaces and institutions that recognize the value of the work we do outside of the mainstream. Black people are constantly creating but if that work is not “anointed” by the mainstream, it is treated as if it doesn’t exist, which is part of the erasure. Just because something is invisible does not mean it is not there.
*”You’re Not Urban Enough”
After attending the reading from the lovely ladies at the Blue Black Magic Women including Thomas, Jennifer Brissett, Kiini Salaam and Ibi Zoboi, I attended the Publisher’s Panel with Jerome Walford, Bill Campbell (Rosarium), Regine Sawyer, and Robert Garrett, and unsurprisingly, the common thread that pushed these creators to become publishers — being told that them and their work was not “urban enough.” Thus creating their own independent publishing companies and media was a way to escape the white gaze that controls and distorts images of blackness. The conversation highlighted the need for our own institutions, which one of the members of the audience mentioned when he was in his own panel Back2Black, which featured Tony Patrick, Kwanza Osajyefo, Eric Battle, Micheline Hess, and Gil Ashby. During the panel, these comic creators discussed how they showed authenticity in their work, using particulars of specific black experiences in each of their books. Bringing up the Marvel controversy, where the CEO blamed diversity for the lack of sales in their comics, ignoring their own lack of effort to actually develop characters of color and market them properly. So it is up to us to do that for ourselves, but how do we do that with less capital, and the lack of mentors to usher us into creating stability for our own institutions?
*We Have Always Lived in the Future
Before the start of my panel, I got a chance to see some of the Black Speculative Arts Movement panel and found out that I missed the We Have Always Lived in the Future exhibition that recently took place at the Flux Factory. Dang it! But you can find out some of what happened at Nettrice Gaskin’s blog and a review! This was the third installation of the series that explores marginal communities and technology, so I’ll be on the look out for it in the future.
Also, I had a chance to see Canadian artist, Quentin Babatunde VerCetty‘s work, which combines science fiction and fantastical visionscapes with Afro-diasporic, especially Caribbean, imagery.
*Debut of the Astro-Caribbean!
Speaking of Caribbean…I moderated my first panel! And Reynaldo told me that he mentioned it to Nalo Hopkinson, so she had wanted to see it. I feel so honored! Hopefully I can continue this into a series of other panels and projects. We’ll see. But thank you to Damali Abrams, Tiffany Rhodes (Butch Diva), Fabiola Jean-Louis and Chanel Harry for joining me on the panel and giving great responses, especially Fabiola, with her remark that through our masquerades and carnivals, as by extension our creations of any kind, we become like demi-gods! Our creations and fantasies allow us to connect to the larger cosmos!
Oh by the way…look at all the books I got at the conference!
Thank you again to Maia Crown Williams and Reynaldo Anderson for organizing such an awesome conference and inviting me to be a part of it! Black Speculative Arts Movement will be in L.A. next, so check it out!
Marimba Ani’s Yurugu and Let the Circle Be Unbroken
Sonia Sanchez’s A Blues Book for a Blue Black Magic Woman (Currently not in print but it should be)
DJ Spooky’s Book of Ice
Kodwo Eshun’s “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism.”