Some of the historical moments at the roots of Afrofuturism have cycled back into relevance with heightened urgency today.
Underpinning Afrofuturism is African diaspora, the displacement of people from Africa due to the slave trade.
In West Africa, for those Egungun priests who invoke the departed spirits, the self disappears in the wearing of the sacred garment; one becomes a vessel for spirit.”In the same article, Akpem explores this in the context of contemporary sculptor Chakaia Booker: “Always pictured in her headdress of African textiles, wrapped one on top of the other with panels hanging to shoulder and sometimes waist-length, she is Amazonian with eyes so direct they seem to strip away all pretence. Her monumental works of discarded tire rubber speak to reclamation and reuse; she pushes the material into forms that are alive, organic.”Afrofuturist women in Pop The ultimate medium for channelling a highly stylized alter-ego, pop music has always been a platform for presenting a self-created identity to the world, but many African American female artists have presented their pop star personas with uniquely Afrofurutist codes: a mixture of ancient African spirituality and space-age technology.
It’s arguably present in a lot of 90s and 00s R‘n’B music videos: trio TLC’s classic Pre-dating them by several decades, Betty Davis sang “They say I’m different ‘cause I’m a piece of sugar cane; My great grandma didn’t like the foxtrot; Nah, instead she’d spit her snuff and boogie to Elmore James.” So core to her message was this song that it became the title to her self-produced 1974 album on which the track appeared, the art for which featured Davis in a costume part afro-mysticism, part glam rock.
And then, of course, there is the inimitable Grace Jones, who proclaimed ”I wasn't born this way.
It’s present in the work of ‘android’ pop star Janelle Monáe, and Detroit artist Krista Franklin – whose 2007 collage work , where the young female protagonist takes on powerful identities, such as a white man or a lion, to navigate a hostile world.
The practice harks way back to the Afri COBRA collective of the 1960s and 70s, which sought to empower black communities through forging a new self-defined visual identity.
One of the most important of its works was Jae Jarrell’s (1971), a portrait of political activist Angela Davis wearing the pink tweed, ammo-adorned garment.
Speaking earlier this year Jae Jarrell said, “One of the tenets of Afri COBRA was to reinvent yourself.”Reclaiming tradition While looking towards a space-age future, Afrofuturism is simultaneously deeply connected to ancient African tradition. Denenge Akpem writes: “In Afro-Futurism, the garment is an active part of the creative/transformative process; the garment or costume is an activator.
Time, for an Afrofuturist, is a fluid concept, and the terms past, present and future aren’t necessarily linear.
Monáe’s android, according to Thomas, is “the android other figure in society, and so she’s playing with that idea and what it means to rearticulate the body that has been dissected, that has been mutated and that has been made to perform.”The term Afrofuturism might only have been coined in 1993 by author Mark Dery, but the black cultural experience of freedom achieved through sci-fi, ancient African cosmology and magical realism has been underway since the middle of 20th century.