#blackness #afrofuturism #identity #agency #mobility
Today we’re partnering with our friends at ART21 Magazine to bring you Nettrice Gaskins‘ excellent consideration of “Black futurism as a form of creative expression [that] pushes against the conventional limits of black subjectivity.” This article was originally published on June 24, 2014, in the “Future” issue of ART21 Magazine.
For the online research project Liquid Blackness, Alessandra Raengo reflects on Harry Elam’s assertion that in contemporary culture, blackness is able to “travel on its own, separate and distinct from black people.” Raengo writes that the detachability of blackness from black subjectivity, identity, and history “remains exceedingly attractive and possible” in mainstream society and that this detachment opens up possibilities for artists. Art exhibitions such as Nicola Vassell’s Black Eye leverage contemporary forms of mobility in blackness. Vassell states, “A black eye is our true tool—it’s the thing a lot of us rely heavily on for this art world to even exist… But at the same time, a black eye is the document of having been bruised.”
Artists who trouble notions of blackness include Wangechi Mutu, Jacolby Satterwhite, Sanford Biggers, Hank Willis Thomas, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, and Wanuri Kahiu, who made Kenya’s first science-fiction film, Pumzi. These artists visualize the creative and symbolic dimensions of the future in ways that also resonate in the texts of black science-fiction writers such as Octavia Butler. In “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” Jerry Phillips quotes Lewis Mumford’s idea of the author (or artist) as the creator. Mumford asserts that “the writer is still a maker, creator, not merely a recorder of fact, but above all an interpreter of possibilities.” Phillips further elaborates, “By exploring “possible worlds” and “intuitions of the future” that critique the present…the [artist] recovers purposive human time, the sense that history is not something that simply happens to us, irrespective of our will and desires, but is, indeed, ours to make.”
In her essay “Race as Technology,” Beth Coleman provides a foundation for the social imaginary that moves race and gender away from the “biological and genetic systems that have historically dominated its definition and toward human agency.” Coleman offers a view of race that exists as if it were on par with an instrument, as a technology or system that is “denatured from its historical roots” and “freely engaged as a productive tool.” This is different than, for example, the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix films that envisioned a futuristic world in which machines rule and use humans as slaves. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Kahiu’s Pumzi convey visions of the future where people are slaves or enabled to leave their walled-in communities.