One Day You'll See: A History of Afrofuturism
curated by Brian Chidester, Suave Rhoomes, and Stacey Robinson.
“One Day You'll See” is an art exhibition which chronicles the history of Afrofuturism from 1920 to present. The term itself is something of a misnomer. It was first coined in 1993 by culture critic Mark Dery as shorthand for any type of futuristic literature written by black writers during the mid-to-late 20th century. The major problem, however, was that none of the artists who fell under Dery's banner ever considered themselves Afrofuturists; nor do the many artists today working in this milieu label themselves as such either.
In the end, Afrofuturism remains a critical convince, or an umbrella term, at best—one which has both semantic meaning and is meaningless at the same time. “One Day You'll See” examines this conundrum by surveying 100 years of black futuristic art, literature, comics, films, and music. The exhibition debuts at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, at the Brooklyn Expo Center, on September 7, 2019. It is curated by Brian Chidester, Suave Rhoomes, and Stacey A. Robinson.
Beginning with “Dark Matter,” a novel of 1920 by W.E.B. Du Bois (and perhaps the first futuristic work of literature by a black writer), the show proceeds to chronicle a number of lesser-known visions by early civil rights pioneers and Harlem Renaissance icons (e.g. George Schuyler, Duke Ellington, et al.). This opening section culminates with the first immersive sci-fi ecosystem as created by Sun Ra in his record albums, poetry books, posters, films, and handmade fashions of the 1950s and '60s.
From there the exhibition explores the profusion of imaginary landscapes, liminal spaces, and alternate histories of black artists and leaders of the 1960s and '70s. These include: Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland,” Sly Stone's “Love City,” Martin Luther King's “Mountaintop,” and Yusef Lateef's “Garden of Love.” These and many other examples serve as both mental constructions within which black artists could experiment with social ideals and were also manifestations of safe-havens from the terror inflected upon black communities around the world. The membrane between fantasy and fact, as documented by these imagined futures, would also prove porous over time, as black politicians, scientists, educators, and artists emerged as leaders in their fields during the ensuing decades.
The next section of the exhibition exemplifies the famous Bob Marley dictum: “In this great future you can't forget your past.” Here the source material—black Egyptian history, voodoo and African magic, ancient masks and fetishes—is shown to be the source of so many futuristic visions by black artists in the 1970s and '80s; radical political organizations as well.
Fine artists such Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kerry James Marshal tapped into traditional masks and the various pantheons of ancient African kingdoms in the creation of their own contemporary approaches. Black Panther, Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, and other black superheroes emerged in this era on the major comic book labels, reflecting the changing demographics of American pop culture. The early years of House Music and hip-hop were also rife with futuristic material. Prominent artists in these subcultures include: P-Funk, Afrika Bambaataa, Phuture Trax, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
The exhibition culminates in a survey of contemporary works by artists from the last 30 years. Public Enemy's album “Fear of the Black Planet” (1990) sets the stage for a variety of new visions showing a future in the U.S. when black people are no longer in the minority. Other well-known artists speculating through their art about the social and political future of black people around the world include: Janelle Monae, whose “Arch-Android” series of albums considers virtual identity in the eras of rampant gentrification and runaway technology; N.K. Jemison, whose “How Long Till Black Future Month?” (2018) is the latest in a series of Nebula Award-nominated books that explores a variety of identity-related issues in the context of science fiction; and Marlon James' “Dark Star” trilogy, a black fantasy saga that has been favorably compared to Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings” and Martin's “Game of Thrones.”
This exciting exhibition is topped off with two slideshow presentations. The first recounts the work of Kentucky visual artist Charles Williams, who from 1959 to 1990 created independent of the mainstream comics industry the first black superheroes, which were re-discovered only recently by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. The second seminar is a presentation by co-curator Stacey A. Robinson on the imagined landscapes of the second section of the exhibition (which also served as the focus of his MFA research).
Additionally, there will be a two-day film festival, September 7th-8th, following the book fair, at the nearby Stuart Cinema (in Greenpoint). Screenings include: “Abar: The First Black Superhero” (1977), “Brother from Another Planet” (1984), Sun Ra's “Space Is the Place” (1976), and George Clinton's “Cosmic Slop” (1993).
Brian Chidester is a writer, editor, and art historian. He authored the book “Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Era” (Santa Monica Press) in 2008 and writes regular articles and reviews for publications such as: “The American Prospect,” “The Atlantic,” “The L.A. Weekly,” “Paste,” “The Surfer's Journal,” and “The Village Voice.” Chidester has served as an editor for “Dumb Angel” magazine, Yahoo.com, “The Deli” magazine, and the “Ephemera” art blog, and has been a segment producer of historical documentaries for the BBC, PBS, Showtime, and the Carl Wilson Foundation. He is currently the Director of Programming for Impact Events Group and recently curated an art exhibition titled “Celluloid Babylon: The Visionary Photographs of William Mortensen in the Silent Film Era” for the NYC Book & Paper Fair in Midtown Manhattan. Chidester received his Masters in Art History from Brooklyn College in 2017 and currently lives in New York City.
Suave Rhoomes is a Brooklyn native with a long history in art direction, curation, and PR. He is the co-founder of the Art Kartel, a collective of creative individuals working in contemporary multimedia art and design. Rhoomes personally directed the cover of “The Deli” magazine's Women of Electro issue in 2014 (the magazine's most widely distributed to date); was the co-producer of “Art Ephemera TV” episodes 1 and 2 (in 2015); and co-curated the Summer Art Crown Heights (Brooklyn) exhibition of 2016. The Art Kartel has produced numerous magazine covers and ads for international brands. Above all Rhoomes remains an advocate of the arts as a means of personal expression and cultural/political dialogue in Brooklyn and beyond. He lives currently in Crown Heights.
Stacey Robinson, an Arthur Schomburg Fellow, received his Masters in Fine Art from the University at Buffalo. He is originally from Albany, NY, and graduated from Fayetteville State University with a Bachelor of Arts. Robinson's artwork speculates futures where black people are free from colonial influences. His recent exhibition “Binary ConScience” explores ideas of W. E. B. Du Bois’s “double consciousness” as a black cultural adaptation and a means of colonial survival. Along with John Jennings, Robinson is part of the collaborative duo “Black Kirby,” which explores Afro Speculative existence via the aesthetic of comics legend Jack Kirby. He recently art directed “Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination” for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem (New York). Robinson also took part in the exhibition “Invisible Ink: Black Independent Comix” at University of Tennessee, and “Beyond the Frame: African American Comic Book Artists,” a presentation at the Flint Institute of Arts. His collected works reside at Modern Graphics in Berlin, Bucknell University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.