Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (Oct 2013) www.iafrofuturism.com
Northwestern University hosted a stellar panel on Afrofuturism . Sponsored by the school’s African American Studies Department at Harris Hall on January 9, the panel explored a cross section of Afrofuturist cutting edge topics. Alex Weheliye, noted Afrofuturists and Northwestern professor moderated. Panelists included Afrofuturism author Ytasha L. Womack, artist Krista Franklin, Northwestern student Jarad Richardson, and Harris Stowe professor Reynaldo Anderson.
The night’s topics engaged a plethora of Afrofuturist interests. Womack spoke at length about her introduction to Afrofuturism while studying at Clark Atlanta University and her discovery of Afrofuturist communities that were unfamiliar with the term. “Naming power is important,” said Womack. “When people discover the term, they no longer feel isolated in their interests. They feel that their thoughts are validated and are encouraged that there’s a larger movement with a history, an active present and a vibrant future.”
Weheliye asked panelists to discuss the purpose of Afrosurrealism, a new aesthetic championed by California poet D. Scott Miller who penned the Afrosurrealism Manifesto in 2010. Franklin has used Afrosurrealism to inform her work prior to Miller’s manifesto and emphasized that the focus on the surreal nature of the present was different form Afrofuturism. In describing Afrofuturism’s relationship to time, Womack stated that the aesthetic was “where the future meets the past” whereas Afrosurrealism is clearly squared in the present. The approaches are different,” Womack added.
Richardson discussed his interest in what he describes as black temporality, a variation of time travel and fluidity in work out of the African diaspora, some of which may not be described as Afrofuturist. He also shared his interest in black queer futurism. “What does queerness look like in the future?” he asked. Richardson also shared his interest in water myths in black pop culture, noting rapper Azaelia Banks and “the sea as a lost archive.”
Anderson purports Afrofuturism’s possible political interest, arguing that theories of Afrofuturism could likely be used as the basis of policy in some African nations. “I’ve never thought about Afrofuturism and politics,” said Franklin, who noted that the juxtoposition of the two is a sensitive issue. However, the explosion of Afrofuturism is creating a shift says Anderson. “I look at Afrofuturism as reinvigorating black studies.”
Several panelists noted that professor Alondra Nelson’s creation of the Afrofuturist listserve in the late 90s was a major tool for those dissecting Afrofuturist ideas and played a significant role in many of today’s Afrofuturist educators and collaborations.
Ultimately, the idea of Afrofuturism as a tool for the imagination and its use to visualize the future while embracing nonlinear strategies was identified as a benefit for change agents and one adopted by leaders of the past. “I think Afrofuturism is important for imagining a future but also [to imagining] alternatives,” said Weheliye. “For black cultures to inhabit alternatives is very powerful.”