Afrofuturistic Freedom Dreams

John Jennings. "Hotlantis: An Afrofuturistic Pop Art Exhibition of Cosmic Proportions," 2013. Southwest Arts Center, Atlanta, GA.

John Jennings. “Hotlantis: An Afrofuturistic Pop Art Exhibition of Cosmic Proportions,” 2013.  Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

Yesterday I attended the opening for Hotlantis: An Afrofuturistic Pop Art Exhibition of Cosmic Proportions at the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta, GA. John Jennings and Stacy “Blackstar” Robinson teamed up to create a visual homage to the legendary comic creator Jack KirbyBlack Kirby celebrates Jack Kirby and his contributions to the pop culture landscape, while remixing his style, forms and ideas to explore themes like Afrofuturism, social justice, representation, and magical realism. It uses the culture of hip-hop as a “methodology for creating visual communication.”

Hotlantis: An Afrofuturistic Pop Art Exhibition of Cosmic Proportions

Entrance to “Hotlantis: An Afrofuturistic Pop Art Exhibition of Cosmic Proportions.” Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

First consider writer and theorist Daniel Feral‘s Graffiti and Street Art infographic:

Daniel Feral. "Graffiti and Street Art (detail)," 2012. Courtesy the writer.

Daniel Feral. “Graffiti and Street Art (detail),” 2012. Courtesy Daniel Feral.

Now imagine Feral’s chart is expanded to include the Black Comix subgenre in which the abstraction in Pop Art marries with the narrative format of comics and black vernacular technological creativity.

Wassily Kandinsky / Panel for Edwin R. Campbell, no. 2, 1914 with Jack Kirby / 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1977

Wassily Kandinsky. “Panel for Edwin R. Campbell, no. 2,” 1914;  Jack Kirby. “2001: A Space Odyssey,” 1977.

Jack Kirby’s work responded to the formalist aesthetics that clearly informed abstractionist and Pop Art painters, and this in turn helped Kirby engage a formally rigorous graphic practice, closer to the modernist aesthetics of Wassily Kandinsky, for example. It is this style that inspired John Jennings and Stacey Robinson and we can expand Daniel Feral’s chart even more to include what Duane Deterville calls the Afriscape, a “critical lens, then we can (use to) interpret the images presented to us in a way that makes clear their affinity with African metaphysics.”

A short definition for the Afriscape would be the deterritorialized cultural presence of Black/African people anywhere in the world.  The Afriscape is a contiguity of African cultures that acknowledges commonality viewed from varying subjective critical lenses and sensibilities. These Afriscape sensibilities give us the ability to map meaning in these images – gradually unpacking the deceptively simple and oblique narrative to reveal the cosmic scope of their implications. –Duane Deterville

John Jennings & Stacey Robinson. "Major Sankofa and Big Sistah," 2013. Photo courtesy Nettrice Gaskins.

John Jennings & Stacey Robinson. “Major Sankofa, Mighty Shango & Big Sistah,” 2013. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

Afrofuturism is a subset of the Afriscape that probably deserves an infographic of its own. Maybe I’ll work on one this summer. Today John and Stacey facilitated a discussion, Afrofuturistic Freedom Dreams, at the Auburn Avenue Research Library in Atlanta. Here’s a segment of the talk:

Other takeaways from the talk:

  • building a mythos (or ethos) around what has already been established, using the Africentric, techno-cultural lens of Afrofuturism and other related subgenres (lenses); the mythos is the “values and attitudes” of a people and the ethos is the “cypher,” or the informal gathering of artists and performers (often in a circle)
  • taking the contemporary practices of remixing and sampling and exploring them through visual (2D) images –i.e. such as remixing/sampling from Jack Kirby’s work to create new artistic/narrative forms
  • the pressing need to develop infrastructure to support the creative works of artists and performers; infrastructure needs to exist in multiple domains and on multiple platforms
  • ‘Blackness’ is not just a product; it has become a type of boundary object for the Africa Diaspora:

Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds. – Susan Leigh Star & James R. Griesemer (1989)

John Jennings & Stacey Robinson. "Black Kirby," 2013. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

John Jennings & Stacey Robinson. “Black Kirby,” 2013. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

Etienne Wenger describes boundary objects as entities that can link communities together as they allow different groups to collaborate on a common task. Here, artists transcend race and culture as a firm construct and Blackness, as a boundary object of creative expression and identity, can be reframed in the context of wider collective activity. This is how we can link the images of Black Kirby with the films of Kahlil Joseph or Terence Nance, the music of Flying Lotus, the art of Sanford Biggers, or Julie Mehretu, or Yinka Shonibari MBE, and the culinary art of Marcus Samuelsson. This is how we can understand the ‘Mothership (Connection)’ though the reflections of Minister Faust, or in Sanford Biggers’ “conundrum.”

George Clinton’s Mothership was a metaphor, and maybe a parody, and definitely a remix… it was also a literal thing, a gigantic prop-vehicle descending onto the stage of Parliament Funkadelic concerts so that Clinton could pop out in his alter-ego of the Starchild, a name invoking Arthur C Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, and its celestially evolved astronaut, Dave Bowman. Clinton’s Starchild emerging from his starship also summoned up peace-messenger Klaatu (rather than galactic executioner Gort), disembarking his own cosmodisc in Edmund North’s and Robert Wise’s The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), and the Christ-like, slender alien (and interstellar orchestra conductor) from Steven Spielberg’s Mothership in 1977’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. –Minister Faust

Jack Kirby's "The Royal Chambers of Brahma," Parliament's "Mothership Connection," Wayne Blackledge's comp & a work by Black Kirby

Motherships: Jack Kirby’s “The Royal Chambers of Brahma,” Parliament’s “Mothership Connection,” Wayne Blackledge’s comp & a work by Black Kirby.

The Mothership, as a boundary object, is subject to “interpretive flexibility” and thus to multiple translation possibilities within cooperative arrangements. In other words, it a vehicle for the techno-cultural transmission of Blackness. I’d argue that Blackness is, in of itself, an invisible infrastructure to which boundary objects contribute via the “conventions and standards they channel” (Trompette & Vinck). Black vernacular technological creativity pre-dates Grandmaster Flash’s cross-fader, was imagined by Sun Ra, and described by Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). It was presented today by Black Comix practitioners John Jennings and Stacey Robinson. I have a theory that it began with the ancient Dogon people and ancient Kemet. Somehow it survived the Middle Passage and forced migration of African people around the world… but it’s just a theory.

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