Monday, December 30, 2013

The Shadows Take Form: Afrofuturism at the Studio Museum of Harlem


Mark Dery wrote about Afrofuturism in his seminal essay Black to the Future which included interviews with Greg Tate and Samuel Delaney. Afrofuturism is an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fictionfantasy,Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. First coined by Mark Dery in 1993, Afrofuturism addresses themes and concerns of theAfrican Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens. Afrofuturism encompasses a range of mediums and artists who have a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences. Examples of seminal afrofuturistic works include the novels ofSamuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the photography of Renée Cox; and the explicitly extraterrestrial mythology of Parliament-Funkadelic, and Sun Ra.

The exhibit at the Studio Museum of Harlem further pushes open the star gates to provide a wider visual sense of the Afrofuturist ethic which had more been defined by the literary work of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, and musically, to the work of Sun Ra and his Arkestra and of course George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. (Note: Aside from authors Delaney and Butler, I would also include the novels of Ishmael Reed which, while seeming more satiric/mojo/parody actually dwell in an alternative universe where reality is its own best parody. Witness especially The Freelance Pallbearers, where Nazarene apprentice Bukka Doopeyduck foments rebellion in the nation of Harry Sam. I would love to see a director attempt to bring that to the screen.)

The Studio Museum show presents the multimedia work of international artists ranging from those who have unwittingly dipped a toe in the Afrofuturist ethos to those who gave jumped in and been fully baptized. It's an interesting and dynamic show; I did find much of the multimedia video and film presentations more compelling (John Akomfrah and Khaled Hafez) although the scope and volume of the show provide much food for thought ( hopefully not soylent green.)

The show continues through March 14, 2014. Recommended.

The Studio Museum of Harlem website appears here http://www.studiomuseum.org/exhibition/

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