Afrofuturism is an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, 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 the African 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 of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the photography of Renée Cox; and the explicitly extraterrestrial mythoi of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Jonzun Crew, and Sun Ra.
Afrofuturism can be identified in artistic, scientific, and spiritual practices throughout the African diaspora. Contemporary practice retroactively identifies and documents historical instances of Afrofuturist practice and integrates them into the canon. Examples are the Dark Matter anthologies, which feature contemporary Black sci-fi, but also include older works by W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles W. Chesnutt, and George S. Schuyler. Since the term was introduced in 1994, self-identified Afrofuturist practice has become increasingly ubiquitous. The afrofuturist approach to music was first propounded by the late Sun Ra. Born in Alabama, Sun Ra's music coalesced in Chicago in the mid-1950s, when he and his Arkestra began recording music that drew from hard bop and modal sources, but created a new synthesis which also used afrocentric and space-themed titles to reflect Ra's linkage of ancient African culture, specifically Egypt, and the cutting edge of the Space Age. Ra's film Space Is the Place shows the Arkestra in Oakland in the mid-1970s in full space regalia, with a lot of science fiction imagery as well as other comedic and musical material.
Afrofuturist ideas were taken up in 1975 by George Clinton and his bands Parliament and Funkadelic with his magnum opus Mothership Connection and the subsequent The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, P Funk Earth Tour, Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome, and Motor Booty Affair. In the thematic underpinnings to P-Funk mythology ("pure cloned funk"), Clinton in his alter ego Starchild spoke of "certified Afronauts, capable of funkitizing galaxies."
In the early 1990s, a number of cultural critics, notably Mark Dery in his 1994 essay Black to the Future, began to write about the features they saw as common in African-American science fiction, music and art. Dery dubbed this phenomenon “afrofuturism”.
Afrofuturist ideas have further been expanded by scholars like Alondra Nelson, Greg Tate, Tricia Rose, Kodwo Eshun, and others. In an interview with Alondra Nelson, she explains Afrofuturism as a way of looking at the subject position of black people which covers themes of alienation and aspirations for a utopic future. The idea of 'alien' or 'other' is a theme often explored. Additionally, Nelson notes that discussions around race, access, and technology often bolster uncritical claims about a so-called “digital divide”. The digital divide overemphasizes the association of racial and economic inequality with limited access to technology. This association then begins to construct blackness “as always oppositional to technologically driven chronicles of progress.” As a critique of the neo-critical argument that the future’s history-less identities will end burdensome stigma, Afrofuturism holds that history should remain apart of identity, particularly in terms of race.
Chicago is home to a vibrant community of artists exploring Afrofuturism. Most notably, Nick Cave, known for his Soundsuits project, has helped develop younger talent as the director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other artists include visual artists Hebru Brantley and Krista Franklin as well as contemporary artist Rashid Johnson, a Chicago native currently based in New York. In 2013, Chicago resident Ytasha L. Womack wrote the book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Science Fiction and Fantasy.
All Black Everything, a song in Lupe Fiasco's Lasers (album), All Black Everything, has references to re-writing the future, similar to the artistry of pioneering afro-futurist Sun Ra. Of the similarities, the concept of African roots as forward and ahead of time was estabalished by the song. This reference to defy dominant culture has been alluded to this song in the L.A.S.E.R.S album.
The musical artist Janelle Monae
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- CALL FOR PAPERS: AFRO-FUTURISM (archived)
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- Journal of the Society for American Music 2: Special issue on Technology and Black Music in the Americas, May 2008
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- Williams, Ben. 2001. 'Black Secret Technology: Detroit Techno and the Information Age' in eds. Nelson and Tu, Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York University Press, 154–176.
- Yaszek, Lisa. 'Afrofuturism: Science Fiction and the History of the Future' Socialism and Democracy
- Yaszek, Lisa. 2005. 'An Afrofuturist Reading of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man' Rethinking History Volume 9, Nos. 2–3: 297–313
- Aker: Futuristically Ancient
- Black to the Future: Afro-Futurism 1.0 by Mark Dery
- Black Science Fiction Society
- BlueBlack Atlantis
- 'Believe the Hype: Hype Williams and Afrofuturist Filmmaking' by Thomas DeFrantz
- 'They Came Before the Matrix' (Afrofuturist Film) by Gary Dauphin
- (Dj) Instantaneous | Afrofuturism Foundation