In the Black Fantastic, by writer, broadcaster and curator Ekow Eshun. With essays by scholars Kameelah L. Martin and Michelle D. Commander. Published by MIT Press.
What physical form might Black utopia take? What are the legacies of Afrofuturism? Who are the TRAUMAnauts? Are there seducing and compelling alternatives to Western visions of progress? How can fantasy, myth and fiction address racism and injustice? Or even give new perspectives on ecology and gender identity?
In the Black Fantastic is a collection of works by artists from the African diaspora whose imagination revisits dominant portrayals of the past, reclaims narratives about the future and engages with the inequities of today’s society. The fantastical element shouldn’t be confused with escapism. The strange and eccentric Black Fantastic deploys myth and spiritual practices to make emerge new visions of Black possibility. It’s about summoning different cultural traditions to confront the racialised every day and expand the visual spectrum of Black experiences.
Kristin-Lee Moolman, from Baloji series, 2018
Wole Lagunju, Belle of the Hearth, 2014
Kordas Jatafa Henry, Earth Mother, Sky Father (trailer), 2019
In the Black Fantastic is a brilliant book. Because of the colour illustrations of exciting art and because of the quality of the essays. In Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics, Feminism and the Arts, Kameelah L. Martin explores the cultural importance of Black women’s speculative interventions, transmission of Ancestral memory and knowledge. Michelle D. Commander’s essay In Populated Air: Flying Africans, Technology & the Future encapsulates the soul of the book by bringing together folklore of the African diaspora and a sharp questioning of Western modernity that suggests the need for what Amiri Baraka calls “spiritually-oriented Black technologies”.
I was also particularly moved by a text in which Ekow Eshun explains how journeys across sea and space -a familiar element of the Black speculative imaginary- not only grapple with a world that treats Black people as alien and Other but is also often used as a metaphor to help revisit the “founding trauma” or the Middle Passage.
Here’s a fraction of the amazing artworks I discovered (and sometimes rediscovered) in the book:
David Uzochukwu, Wildfire, 2015
Mickalene Thomas, Untitled #3 (from Orlando series), 2019
Nuotama Bodomo, Afronauts, 2014
Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele (still), 2017
Us, dir. Jordan Peele (trailer), 2019
Jean-Claude Moschetti, Ouri #4, 2010
Allison Janae Hamilton, Three girls in cabal palm forest II, 2019
Cristina de Middel, Okowako (from This Is What Hatred Did series), 2014
Curtis Essel, Allumuah (trailer), 2020
Larry Achiampong, Relic I (still), 2017
Marc Asekhame and Daniel Obasi, from “Chaos and creation in ages pre-lockdown”, The Face, May 2020
Gordon Parks, Invisible Man Retreat, Harlem, New York, 1952
Mohau Modisakeng, Passage, 2017
Robert Pruitt, I Need a Vacation from this Vacation, 2015
Athi-Patra Ruga, Night of the Long Knives, 2013
Alisha B.Wormsley, There are Black People in the Future, 2017
Fabrice Monteiro, Untitled #3 (from The Missing Link series), 2014
Wilfred Ukpong, BC1-ND-FC: Strongly, We Believe In the Power of this Motile Thing That Will Take Us There #1. From the series: Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos (from Blazing Century 1), 2017
Hew Locke, Ambassador 1, 2021. Photo: Anna Arca
Lina Iris Viktor, Eleventh, 2018
Here Locke, Albion (from How Do You Want Me? series), 2007
Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2014
P.S: The artwork on the cover of In the Black Fantastic is Juliana Huxtable, Lil’ Marvel, 2015.
P.S. 2: The publication accompanies an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.
Previously: Africa State of Mind. Contemporary Photography Reimagines a Continent, UFA – University of African Futures, Kinshasa. Always on the move.