Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (Oct 2013) www.iafrofuturism.com
Nettrice Gaskins studies Afrofuturism through virtual spaces, STEM and STEAM. She’s currently working on a thesis on her studies with Georgia Tech University in Atlanta.
Ytasha: How did you begin to explore Afrofuturism through virtual spaces?
Nettrice: Four years ago, I started doing a lot of work in virtual world. I taught a course on creativity in Second Life. I was using it as a way to talk about virtual language. At the time IBM had a space in Second Life. You would propose to them and they would give you 2 or 3 months of space to do what you wanted to do. In May 2010, I was able to do an exhibition, a 3D installation of Afrofuturist cultural production in Second Life called (SEE IMAGES HERE) Alternate Futures: Afrofuturism Multiverses and Beyond.
Ytasha: What was your objective?
Nettrice: I had to figure out how to immerse those who weren’t familiar with Afrofuturism using the virtual space. I wanted the avatars in the space to have an experience. I put up a gallery that allowed you to manipulate objects. I had the Cosmic Slop album which I recreated in 3D. There’s an Octavia Butler object where you could click on it and it took you to her literature. I linked Outkast. I played with fog and effects. At some point I started to get into Sun Ra a lot. People could come into the space and see African Bambaataa’s Planet Rock. Then I stared working on a Sun Ra scepter, it was an Egyptian hieroglyphics for Ra. It rotated and had special effects.
Ytasha: Can you walk us through the space?
Nettrice: People would click on the exhibition and they would show up as their avatar. Inside that portal they would come to a spinning whirlpool for a larger spot. Then there’s a sky bridge that landed you up in the air. Then there were thematic exhibitions, one on utopia and one on dystopia. Then the sky bridge took them in to the universe – in this case an Afrofuturist universe. In some cases the objects were interactive.
Ytasha: What was the dystopian side like?
Nettrice: On the dystopia side it dealt with issues of surveillance. There was a wall of eyes – a very creepy surveillance experience. Another dealt with the school to prison pipeline. I created cases and things that were boxed off. I recreated the idea of limited options. If you were poor you only had limited options to get out. At one point there is a dollar bill and if you click on it you get in a cage, or if you step in the wrong spot at the wrong time you are in prison.
Ytasha: What about utopia?
Nettrice: Then on the utopia side, I’m dealing a lot with genetics and DNA. The album cover of Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and then a DNA double helix. I had images from the Dogon In utopia; the avatar can learn and click on videos. There was a steam punk dream, a time machine.
Ytasha: The virtual world is very fascinating. I’m amazed by the versatility. What, in your opinion, is the power of the virtual world?
Nettrice: I took a professor to this (virtual world) exhibition and her avatar has to go on a cliff and fall off the cliff. When you fall your body feels like its falling. That was a message to her. When people are immersed in virtual world’s they are immersed. You feel that these avatars are extension of you. This idea of the extension of self and identification through the virtual world has reality.
Ytasha: You’re also doing work exploring the correlations between math and art through Afrofuturism. How did you become fascinated by these relationships?
Nettrice: I was already researching graffiti art. Graffiti art talk about art and math. Doze Green, he was in the film Styles Wars, he’s now a well-known artist who does these contemporary abstract, mathematical drawings and he talks about science and math. There must be a relationship between science and math. I said what is with graffiti and math? I had to do some research. A person I found. Ron Eglash, he has a book out called African Fractals. He has math software and one of those tools is math and African fractals. He was able to make the link between graffiti and math that I was looking for and he was good at explaining it from a math point of view. Sanford Biggers is an artist and he was talking about math and using geometry in his book and I realized there must be a relationship. I asked Sanford if he was interested in making ties between art and math to help students.
Ytasha: Afrofuturism is built around this merging of math, science, art and philosophy. But the language to explain these relationships isn’t always easy to explain.
Nettrice: Yes, Sun Ra was also studying science and math and made correlations in his music. The idea that Sun Ra set a blueprint for Afrofuturists to explore STEM and bridging Afrofuturism with STEM and STEAM is fascinating. And that opened a huge door for me because I started getting into deeper conversations with Ron Eglash and Sanford about the relationship between not just graffiti and math, but African and African American art and STEM. Now I’m looking at polyrhythms that are seen in quilts and realizing that there is a connection. Getting into o geometry and fractals also ties into African cosmology and systems.
Ytasha: Why are you interested in bridging math, art and Afrofuturism?
Nettrice: One of the things that keeps coming up is this divide in math scores. But there’s also this representation aspect with respect to African Americans, Latinos and the Indigenous around math. I want to include artists like Sanford and use those images and research to inspire younger people who may not be connected to STEM to become more interested and to explore stem in their work.
Ytasha: Tell us about your latest project?
Nettrice: The project that we’re working on with Sanford involves his work with quilts and those aspects that are math based to do an online math based simulation program. Some of those designs are based on stars and universes and so forth, so it includes science. And there’s a way to tie in engineering and then we have STEAM. There are so many connections with science and math that you can find in the art work. This can get young people involved in creating their own experiments and work.
Ytasha: Why is this work so important?
Nettrice: The idea of building on these legacies of Sun Ra and these other artists like John Biggers (the Sun Ra of the art world) is a way to build relationships between art, math, science, art and foreground them in education. People will have a better understanding of Sun Ra and his contribution but also of steam and the collaboratility.
For more information follow Nettrise here . . .Netharhud.wordpress.com