Creativity of the Black Mind
Curated by Antonette Jones
Afrofuturism has grown in popularity in recent years and is present in every sector of popular culture. The literary and artistic style reimagines the past or creates an enhanced present and future through an Afrocentric lens. Pioneered by Black authors, artists, and musicians, Afrofuturism manifests fantastical worlds that Black people have historically been excluded from. Often directed toward a Black audience, the genre establishes a sense of solidarity and inspiration. It allows Black people to see themselves reflected and prioritized in storylines. It also engages them in speculative fiction reflective of their experiences. The genre also creates visionary discourses that acknowledge racial barriers. Afrofuturism is a place where Black creatives can show us what the world could look like if Black people had unrestricted control of their identity.
The Deep presents a thriving utopia of Black mermaids, known as the Wanjiru. They are descendants of enslaved African mothers that were thrown overboard while traveling across the Middle Passage. In the novel, those separated from their African ancestry meet their long-lost relatives, learn about their origins, and span the ocean to find other lost mermaids. The newly united Wajinru became more powerful and spread knowledge among each other to create a thriving utopia.
Due to the African slave trade, many Black people worldwide do not know their familial origins because their ancestors were separated from their kin and stripped of their identity. Rivers is thus alluding to a reality where Black people from around the world can find each other, connect with their roots, and create a harmonious community.
Octavia Butler (American, 1947-2006) Kindred: A Graphic Novel. 2017. Abrams ComicArts
Octavia Butler is one of the most influential Afrofuturistic authors. A Black woman in a male-dominated profession, Butler became a literary blueprint while paving the way for other Black women in the genre. Her most notable work, Kindred, explores the concept of time travel. In it, the main character, Dana, is transported from her 1976 California apartment to 19th century Maryland. There, Dana must adapt to the social and racial environment. To survive, she blends in as a slave and gets to know Rufus, a slave owner, and her white ancestor.
Stetson Kennedy (American, 1947-2006) Zora Neale Hurston Papers. n.d. Zora Neale Hurston Papers, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries
Zora Neale Huston is an African American anthropologist and writer. Several of her novels fall under Afrofuturism, including Their Eyes are Watching God. As seen in these manuscripts, Hurston often created worlds where white people did not exist and utilized a writing style that reflects African American dialects and storytelling. Additionally, most of her work criticizes U.S. racial and gender hierarchies.
Film & Music
A reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, has an all-Black cast of actors, dancers, and singers to bring the Land of Oz to life. The set design of the film and play, taking place both in Harlem, New York, and Oz, emulates Black neighborhoods and connects the fantasy to daily life. The crows in the story represent the Jim Crow laws of the era, while The Tin Man and Cowardly Lion symbolize hypermasculinity and repressed emotions in the Black community. Their wish to experience emotions and courage makes them outcasts among their people for not following the norms. The score of the play and film highlights the African diaspora by infusing Black genres of jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel. The costumes have vibrant colors representative of African culture and steampunk influences that add to the futuristic and fantastical style of the film.
The Wiz Playbill. 1974. The Merlin Group, LTD. Jim Liversidge Popular Culture Collection, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries
The film Get Out by Jordan Peele uses fictional technology to create a world where slavery is still alive but takes a different form. For example, in the film, the main character, Chris, meets his white partner’s parents at their home, a space that Peele imagines as a modern slavery plantation. There Chris’s body is subjected to a similar examination and torture as enslaved Africans. Throughout the film, Chris undergoes hypnosis and is sent to the Sunken Place, a place of marginalization and lack of control. He is also threatened by transplantation technology that would make him a passenger in his own body, and lose his identity and freedom at the hands of white people.
Jordan Peele, Director (American, 1979-) Get Out. 2017. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
A contemporary example of Afrofuturism in music, Doja Cat has a unique and innovative musical style. The songs from her album Planet Her cover a wide variety of genres and sounds from the African diaspora. “Woman” has a reggaeton beat. “Been Like This” is an emotional pop song. And the sounds from “You Right” represent the genres of R&B and soul. The music videos for “Get Into It” and “Need to Know,” also featured on the album, take place in space where the artist is depicted as a superhero or alien.
Amala Dlamini “Doja Cat” (American, 1995-) Planet Her. 2021. RCA Records
Eleni Roussos (American) The Art of Marvel Studios Black Panther. 2018. Marvel Worldwide, Inc.
Directed by Ryan Coogler and spear-headed by an all-Black cast, Black Panther is a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther infuses advanced technology, superheroes, and African influences to create Wakanda, a fictional African country untouched by European colonization. The five tribes that comprise the people of Wakanda proudly wear African styles of dress, hair, and pierced ornamentation. Additionally, the fictional metal vibranium, that can only be found in Wakanda, is used to develop the technology in Black Panther’s suit.
The film also addresses social issues through the conflict between Black Panther and Kilmonger. Kilmonger, an African American from Compton, is unsatisfied with the racism endured by Black people and criticizes the leaders of Wakanda for not using their resources to help millions of Black people. Killmonger’s plan is the imagination of what could happen if Black people had the tools to fight back their oppressors.
“As an African American actor, a lot of our stories haven’t been told.” -Chadwick Boseman
Tony Isabella (American, 1951-) Black Lightning, Volume 2. 2018. DC Comics. PN 6728 .B5193. Library West General Collection, George A. Smathers Libraries
Black Lightning is the first Black superhero in the Detective Comics Series (D.C Comics) to headline a comic book title. One of the main purposes for the Black Lightning comic was D.C’s push to expand the diversity of their universe so that all audiences could picture themselves as a superhero. Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning’s real identity, protects his community by fighting crime and being an educator to the children in his community. Black Lightning taps into the potential of the Black youth in his community by serving as an example and reminding them they have agency over their lives.
Damian Duffy (American) Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture. 2010 Mark Batty. PN 6726 .D84 2010. Architecture & Fine Arts Library, George A. Smathers Libraries
An Afrocentric underground subgenre of comics, Comix, was developed due to the lack of proper Black representation in mainstream comic culture. Since Black characters are often depicted as sidekicks to the white hero, independent Black artists created comics that placed Black characters at the story’s focal point. The Black superhero has the potential to inspire Black youth and artists to be leaders and create a world with stories that stem from their own experiences. Black superheroes protect the Black community from the villains of racism, sexism, classism, and poverty, all inflicted by white supremacy.
Christina De Mideel Afronauts. 2012. This Book is True. N7433.4.D468A77. 2012. Harold and Mary Jean Hanson Rare Book Collection, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries. Purchased with funds from the Madelyn M. Lockhart Library Endowment Fund in African Studies
Based upon a true story, Afronauts is an artist’s book about Zambian Edward Makuka and his group’s quest to join the late 1960s space race. Makuka founded the Zambian Space Program to train the first African astronauts to go to the Moon and Mars. Makuka’s plan included using an aluminum spaceship to send male and female teenagers along with a cat to space. Unfortunately, the program did not succeed in sending the Zambians to space. However, in her book, artist Cristina de Middel imagines what the planning and space trip could have been.
Pippin Frisbie-Calder (Front) Veronica Rex (Back) Moon and Stars: Free Our Mamas Sisters! Queens!. 2020. The People’s Paper Co-Op. HV9306.P55P46 2020. Rare Books Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries
The Free Our Mammas project highlights the voices and stories of previously incarcerated women and their reentry into society with the goal of a more just and free future. In spring 2020, People’s Papers Co-Op fellows created artworks on handmade paper made from shredded criminal records. The formerly incarcerated women turned their intensive labor into a beautiful and thought provoking art piece.
Curated by Antonette Jones | Designed by Katiana Bagué and Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler
This online exhibit is based on the exhibit of the same name displayed at the University of Florida Smathers Library Lobby from June 17, 2022 – October 17, 2022.
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