Welcome to Women’s History Month! We just left Black History/Future Month and a thought came to me to do a link between the two with a new segment called “Space:Queens.” In this new blog segment, I will be doing writeups and interviews focused on afrofuturism within my own home borough of Queens!
Growing up in Queens, it always felt as if the borough was treated as outer space. It’s reputation as a kind of wasteland was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald calling it “The Valley of the Ashes” in The Great Gatsby, which Robert Moses later turned into Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was home to the 1964 World’s Fair, whose focus was to showcase the latest and possible innovations of the day. Yet, most of the attention of the city has been focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn. I know many people who have said they didn’t like to venture out to the borough. I even wanted to move to Brooklyn once because I thought it was a central mecca for Black and Caribbean cultures.
But recently I have been exploring more and more of my borough and all the wonderful
surprises hidden in it. There is so much unexplored within Queens, which is why I decided to set my fantasy book (“The E”) in the borough.
Because of Queens’ treatment as an outer space region of the city, the history of the World’s Fair and technological innovation, the technological transformation of the Valley of the Ashes into Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and The Unisphere and NYS Pavilion having this retro-futuristic appearance, I am not shocked that the later two have been used in science fiction and fantasy film, including Men In Black, The Wiz (“Munchkinland”) and Tony Stark’s Stark Expo.
Starting this month, I will post features about Queens-related visionaries who are helping to change the borough, the city and the world and visionary stories about Queens! First up are Yvonne Shortt and Shante Paradigm Smalls!
Program interruption: This is my entry for Blogging While Brown scholarship.
My blog, Futuristically Ancient, has been running for a little over two years. I started blogging a couple of years before that as another way to express myself, since I am not much of a talker. As for this blog, I started it after watching a clip of John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History; I thought it did a great job of connecting pasts, presents and futures, which was already one of my interests. Later on, I found out about afrofuturism, reigniting my interest in science fiction and fantasy, and declared that as the focus of my blog.
While this blog started as a side things for fun, I do want to be more serious about how to expand it and connect with others. But I am slightly introverted and shy, as Stacia L. Brown said in her post, so networking is not that easy for someone like me. Blogging While Brown, which will be in my home city this year and would be my first time attending, seems like a great opportunity to meet other bloggers and learn from the more advanced and professional bloggers their tricks and techniques, since I am still somewhat of a newbie.
As Ebony celebrated Katherine Dunham, Nick Cave was featuring dozens of Alvin Ailey dancers wearing 30 colorful horse “soundsuits” in his public performance piece at Grand Central station, HEARD•NY. Presented by Creative Time and MTA Arts, the 30 minute performances included a grazing pastoral music and dance sequence followed by a rhythmic choreographed dance, “crossings” in two rings in the hall. The “crossings” take place two time each day, 11 am and 2 pm, this week until Sunday. Harpists Shelley Burgon and Mary Lattimore and percussionists Robert Levin and Junior Wedderburn provided live musical accompaniment and William Gill did the choreography.
*Also, this Saturday, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute will be presenting a dance event, Moving with MUV in Brooklyn, New York. The event will be a workshop and a previewing of their new work, Calling Names. “Calling Names explores issues of identity, lineage, the journey from personhood to spirithood and the role of ancestors in our personal evolution through life.” To rsvp, click here.
*If you are in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 26th, Balogun Ojetade will be hosting the Mahogany Masquerade, featuring films, a bazaar for shopping, a panel discussion on the Steamfunk Movement and costume prizes. For more information, click on the link above.
*Akosua Adoma Owusu is a Ghanaian filmmaker who has created such films as Drecxiya and Me Broni Ba (My White Baby). Currently, she is working on a film project with her uncle, Ko Nimo, called Kwaku Ananse – A fable, a funeral and a spider coffin. The film, drawing from Ghanaian mythology, is about a young outsider Nan Kronhwea, who is attending her estranged father’s funeral and finds out about his double life. It combines “semi-autobiographical elements with the tale of Kwaku Ananse, a trickster in West African stories who appears as both spider and man.” Owusu is raising money for the project and you can support it on her kickstarter page.
*Black Public Media is having a competition for a new interactive web series. The winner will receive a grant. The deadline for this year’s Digital Open Call will be September 18th, 2012. For more information, click here.
Kenyan filmmaker Hawa Essuman’s “supernatural screenplay titled Djin (set in a sleepy seaside town that is about to be roused by a wind that stirs people’s deepest emotions every forty years) was selected as one of the 36 projects (from 465 entries) for Rotterdam’s 29th co-production market CineMart, where it was presented to 850 potential co-financiers.” While waiting for her new film to start production, in the meantime, you can watch her 2010 film, Soul Boy, a magical film about a boy trying to save his father’s lost soul from a spiritual woman, and watch her music video for Y’akoto’s “Diamonds.”
“Flexing, or bone breaking, is a mix of street dancing and contortionist movements mostly specific to Brooklyn. This video in particular is mesmerizing, almost ritualistic with this group of shirtless guys [they forgot to mention the female dancer] in gas masks all dancing together in the subway. Other riders seem to either not notice them or look on in a trance.”
Saturday was jam-packed with lectures, panel discussions and readings and I am still trying to process it all. Lasting from 10 in the morning to around 6:30 in the evening, the festival started with the futurist and professor of management, Nat Irvin II, discussing the importance of futuristic thinking. His son is actually Nat Irvin III, who works with Janelle Monae in the Wondaland Arts Society. Irvin, who is blind in one eye, asked us whether or not we were thrivals, people who thought about and learned about the future. Going through the history of technological and scientific advancement of the world, he said we have come to the hybrid age, where man and machine are coming together. He said we have also come to an age where we have to pay attention more to ourselves because we have such a major effect on the rest of the world. Next, he gave us a quiz to see how much we knew about the world and what has already happened and it was an eye opener. So much of the things that we thought would have happened in the future has already happened and ideas that we thought would never have happened have already come to pass or are in question. The whole discussion culminated in him asking us to change our view of the future and identity, and using vision, insight and connecting with other’s ideas to open our eyes to the future. Read his work, “The Arrival of Thrivals.”
Then the panel discussions began. The first one was with writer Marcus Dowling, comedian Elon James White, musician Vernon Reid (check out his podcast with W. Kamau Bell, “The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture“) , playwright Dominique Morrisseau and writer Sierra Mcclain. Their topic was how to be progressive and still pay rent, focusing on how to insert oneself into a capitalistic economic structure, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and still be true to onself. The panelists discussed the importance of stronger lines of communication between independents, being stubborn and passionate, thinking outside the box, accepting failures, connecting with audiences and supporters and using the basics of business, like marketing and planning but tailoring them to your business. Also, the panel mentioned that the audiences’ have a responsibility to support the artists with monetary support beause as White said, “I gotta eat.”
Next, was a reading to promote the New Black Fest, called the Black Literature ringshout. Axel Avin, Jr. read a passage called “I’d Rather Go Blind” from the book A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim.The next lecture was from DJ 2-tone Jones and his work on the “Shaolin Jazz” project (more on that later this week) in which he combined the vocals of the Wu-tang Clan with Jazz samples. He spoke about how the project originated Gerald Watson’s project,” The Classic Series,” and the various parallels between hip-hop and jazz. After, poet Tyehimba Jess did a fascinating presentation of his arabic poetic form, ghazal, based on the two minstrel performers, George Walker and Bert Williams.
After a short break, we were back with writer and musician, Greg Tate, who had a conversation with visual artists, Wangechi Mutu and Sanford Biggers, about their influences in their art and how their background, as an East African and an African-American, respectively, impacts their art. Some of the main points of that discussion were the concept of pan-africanism, the african diaspora reaching a larger platform, the politics and poetics of ethnicity and identity, code-switching, shifting identities and the collage nature of identity (reconnection, re-healing, renaming and remixing). Howard Duffy, an urban designer, gave us a lecture on going hyperlocal and making sustainable communities that provide neighborhoods with most of what they need.
After we listened to another reading promoting Black Fest. Danielle Brooks read an excerpt, “The Bridge Stories” from Tiphanie Yanique’s “How to Escape a Leper Colony” (the first major publication from an author from the Virgin Islands). A. Sayeeda Clarke, who I posted about earlier, showed her short film, “White” and had a small discussion with Shadow and Act‘s Tambay Obenson. During the discussion, Clarke mentioned that the lead actor, Elvis Nolasco, will be one of the leads in Spike Lee’s new HBO show, “Da Brick.” Sian Morson, Wayne Sutton, Crystal Campbell and Kenyatta Cheese did art and technology in which they discussed how technological advances can be disguised as art and how new media art differs from old art. Cheese also brought up an interesting point about hip-hop music being a precursor to hacking because people were taking what they have and “making do” with it (by the way, his cousin is DJ Cheese, who made scratching popular).
The day came towards an end with a panel discussion with Amanda Seales (aka Amanda Diva), Toure and Baratunde Thurston about “How to Be Black.” Toure read an excerpt from his book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackess” and Thurston gave us a preview of his upcoming satirical book, “How to Be Black.” In the discussion, they spoke about the multiplicity of identities within blackness, how different generations dealt with blackness and racism, and what unites black people. The second to last presentation was from Ali Muhammad, previously from Vibe and now of 21st Century Hustle, spoke about the entrepreneur mindset and the importance of “seeing it, doing it and being it” when it comes to starting a business. Finally, we ended with Lynette Freeman’s reading of the excerpt, “The Land of Beulah” from Danzy Senna’s “You Are Free.”
As you have read, this day was a long day, and I was too tired to even go to the after party. But I will say that I will definitely go to the festival next year; I learned so much!