Glossary: AfroFuturism

1974 poster for "Space is the Place" starring the Legendary Sun Ra. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
1974 poster for “Space is the Place” starring the Legendary Sun Ra. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

What is Afrofuturism?

In 1909 Filipo Tommaso Marinetti launched the Italian Futurist movement in his Futurist Manifesto. Among its many principles, FT Marinetti and his fellow futurists sought to make people producers of their society rather than just consumers. They were obsessed with the idea of stretching the imagination, robots, technology and war. They wanted to destroy libraries, schools, museums, and all history in hopes that society would cleanse itself.

In 1993, writer Mark Dery coined the term Afrofuturism – a literary and cultural movement that uses science fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity to re-examine historical issues of the African Dispora and envision Black futures.

One current Black artists to adopt the concept of Afrofuturism is Janelle Monae. In her debut EP Metropolis for instance, she depicts herself as a cyborg and the rest of her albums and videos have followed this model based off of technology. What’s great about her inclusion of Afrofuturism is her willingness to challenge stereotypes artistically like in her single Apocolyptic Dance, “I really want to thank you for dancing till the end, You found a way to break out.”

Janelle Monae Cover Art
Janelle Monae Cover Art

I appreciate Monae’s effort but I think that Afrofuturism can be so much more than just depicting cyborg archetypes. Fortunately, the movement benefits from having a long history of Black artists that can fall into the spectrum of being innovative with music, production, and lyrical messaging and perhaps even ahead of their time like OutKast, George Clinton and the Parliament, and of course the legendary Sun Ra.

When it comes to urban music, I do believe there is a need for new concepts, but I do not think it is effective to merely recreate the same old ones. With the right artists, musicians, writers, and designers, Afrofuturism has the potential to bring out the unimagined possibilities in Black culture by stretching the boundaries–not just rearranging them. When was the last time you heard a song like Bombs Over Baghdad? Outkast has always pushed the envelope and distorted the images of what Hip Hop should sound like and how artists should dress.

I’d like to sum my assessment of Afrofuturism with a quote by African fiction writer John Oliver Killens.

“We artists must create a new dialogue and it is left up to us, to the writer, the artist, to create this vision, not the politician, the diplomat, or the statesman.”

By Aasim Rasheed

2 thoughts on “Glossary: AfroFuturism

  1. Afrofusion could mean so many different things to so many individuals but this post really defined it. Why is this an act that was previously frowned upon though?

  2. Looking at AfroFuturism and its consistent presence as a movement in music, literature, and art since and most likely before Sun Ra part of me wonders what the next step is. We have had artists that have owned and channeled this level of creativity, forward thinking, and understanding and reintroduced it to the world in every decade since Ra. After creating a different sound, journey, and experience for a listener where does it go? How can we increase the impact and knowledge that is passed down and create a movement that resonates well beyond the artistic mediums? I guess my question is what is after the vision?

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