Excited for the visit from John Jennings and Stacey Robinson.
Afrofuturism has reached a moment in the popular mind, defined by the works as diverse as Ytasha Womack's Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture to artistic project such as John Jennings and Stacy Robinson's Black Kirby. As I map out my Afrofuturism course for the Spring semester at MSU, I need to strike a balance between an accessible example and background scholarship for the undergrad. I love this tweet because my own thinking about Afrofuturism is linked to the idea of an African-American black imagination going back to the 19th century. What do figures like Harriet Tubman represent in the black imagination? How do they inspire fictive narratives that shape the collective reality for black and white Americans? Clearly, white southerners imagined the efforts of freedom fighters like Tubman in the darkest tones. The secret plotting that leads to revolt is one part of the southern nightmarescape. Yet, the subjects that would do that are everywhere. The corrupting voices of someone like Tubman or Frederick Douglass become the thing whites must stop. This is one of the reason reading is forbidden. If slaves and read what the abolitionist writes the ideas will penetrate deeper and further, undermining the system. At the end of the day, yes, I am taking this suggestion to heart.
The press release for Afrofantastic: Black Imagination and Agency in the American Experience.
What is the difference between play and work? I thought I was suppose to make work fun. I start off this way because there is an element of playing around in some the things I do. There is always a reason, but given some of the dynamic spaces I'm drawn to, it a calculation whether or not I want to take the time to explain them every time. On reflection, I do not think this is a problem of doing anything that cuts across disciplinary boundaries. Everyone I know that is interdisciplinary has a story about being told to "go away" with whatever they are doing. This is shocking, especially in the cases where I think of the person as accomplished and respected in the field. Their validation came after a lot of struggle and profoundly some of those struggles persist depending on their institutional standing.
I'm lucky that my experience in this regard has been ok. I have moved into areas that I see as linked to my over all concerns, but intersecting in unique ways. For example, I'm trained in U.S. History with an emphasis on cities. Cities are a space of natural blending, so naturally I look at it from different angles. Comic books are an urban topic (especially superhero comics) because the rely on a very specific understanding of urbanism. Thus, they are not really that different from city plans, which also rely on a very specific understanding of the urban experience. Still, thinking about anything for a long period of time make you think in different ways. The visual nature of comics becomes a parallel to the visualization so intrinsic to digital history projects. We digitize things for ease of use and understanding. I say in class, "You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand word? In this ThirdSight History project, wrong picture--WRONG THOUSAND WORDS." I don't yell, but you see my point. Like a comic book, my ThirdSight History project asks students to make a narrative that relies on words and pictures. Our narratives are historical and use both archival and content produced by the students.
This all just setting up my reflection Afrofuturism talk I gave in January. Working with Eric Gottesman and a number of other artists (including my colleague Rachel Simmons), we developed a kind of interdisciplinary show at the UCF Gallery called The Encounter: Baalu Girma and Zora Neale Hurston. I did not know Girma, but I have some understanding of Hurston. In discussion with Eric, I thought about different ways I could contribute. One ideas that struck me was the way Eric described Girma experience and how it paralleled Hurston in a way. I think they overlap in the sense that there seems to have been a frustration in Hurston career with making clear her vision to her contemporaries (see what I did there). Anyway, this idea got stuck in my head. I gave a presentation about Hurston and Afrofuturism, which was really about how Hurston could be understood as part of a black imaginary counterpublic that challenged assumptions in the public sphere. This would allow fantastic texts created by African Americans (and allies) since contact to be understood as a kind of narrative in opposition to mainstream (white racist assumptions). So, Afrofuturism which is connected to the 1970s, really follows a Afrofantastic narrative. I call it Afrofantastic because, the common reaction from the mainstream (white racist mainstream) is that X object is fantastic for imagining a circumstance whereby black people do _________________ (you fill in the blank). The modern equivalent is a white person saying "You sounds so ___________" which is many times, but not all the time an indication you fall outside the assumptions linked to race.
I could go on, but you see my point. Part of the brainstorming around this idea was the creation of an installation that imagined Hurston as the subject of a Vanity Fair style magazine story examining her time at Rollins College. This part of her story is a bit of an afterthought to Hurston scholars, but very interesting to me. So, I made stuff in that imaginary space. I was not sure about the use in terms of the installation itself, but it was fun and it helped me understand how I was trying to situate Hurston. See, it all came full circle :-)