hybridchic

INTERVIEW: THE STUDIO MUSEUM HARLEM

STORY BY TANEKEYA WORD

The artistic cultural production and cultural theory that is Afrofuturism has long used the fantastical and Science Fiction elements of robotics and aliens, to solve the inequality of colonialism by transcending the social limitations of Black Diasporic life in Western society. Although appearing cosmically perfect,  it cannot be denied that Afrofuturism’s history is far from utopic: the trauma of the African transatlantic slave trade, W.E.B Du Bois’ emphatic theory of double-consciousness, Zora Neale Hurston’s iconic folklore depicting humor amidst trauma, Sun Ra’s militant blaxploitation music and imagery, Octavia Butler’s equivocal writings on outsider aesthetics, and lets not forget thesouthernplayalisticcadillacfunkymusic of OutKast. Resilient, AfroFuturists have owned, analyzed, deconstructed, and re-coded their joy and pain, and those of their ancestors, to re-imagine the African Diasporian future—free  from Western social stigmas.

For decades, Afrofuturism was publicly linked to literature and music; and yet recently, a courtship has begun with fine art. On November 14th The Studio Museum in Harlem took the helm and debuted its Afrofuturist exhibition, “The Shadows Took Shape.” We at Saint Heron are no strangers to Afrofuturism as emerging and Saint Heron featured artists, Kelela, BCKingdom, Sampha, have strains of Afrofuturist aesthetics coded within their work, so it was a pleasure to speak with the curators, Naima J. Smith and Zoe Whitley, on Afrofuturist activism, the theme of flight throughout African American history, and accidental Afrofuturists. Set amidst the backdrop of a sensitive and rich history, like a griot “The Shadows Took Shape exhibition and the Saint Heron interview navigates through rough terrain to tell an ever-evolving  story of a new Black frontier.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AT SAINTHERON.COM

Photo: Robert Pruitt, “Untitled 3″

Cyberfeminism vs. Afrofuturistfeminism

There are differences and sameness on some accounts within cyberfeminism versus afrofuturistfeminism, I’ll quickly list the basics.

Cyber Feminists and Afrofuturist Feminists agree that Western Marxist/socialist/radical feminism, rooted in class conflict and gender roles to create a naturalize unity amongst women left no room in their structure for race, therefore for decades othering the Black body within feminism.

In an effort to keep this portion short since most futurist feminists are familiar with Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” cyber feminism is rooted in science/machine/technology/genderlessness; it sees Science Fiction as post-modernist and the group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of White Capitalist Patriarchy versus Informatics of Domination. It imagines a utopian world without an origin and negates gender.

Afrofuturist Feminism is rooted in ethnicity and gender; understanding their African Diasporian continuum, the group sees their supernatural ambiguity to shape-shift in natural and manifested surroundings as a genealogical code that predates post modern Science Fiction. The group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of ethnicity and womanhood versus everything that marginalizes and oppresses their group—including technology if necessary—yet, it openly embraces technology as a choice, and not as the final option, to further the African Diasporian continuum.

Afrofuturist Feminists do not negate their history as the group works on a continuum of past, present, future and must utilize the Sankofa principle of “it is not wrong for one to go back and take that which they have forgotten” or “simply go back and take,” therefore, they do not imagine a world without gender nor genesis. Simply put: Afrofuturist Feminists embrace ethnicity with technology, as long as technology doesn’t seek to marginalize the group, they do not need to eradicate the Black or female body nor the history it has witnessed. Utopianism for the group is keeping the Black female body by choice, and the body cohabitates with the world around it without being othered. Note, Afrofuturist Feminists shape-shift so, hybridization, including robotics, etc, may occur, but it’s not a permanent state that solely negates the Black female body. 

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current crush: all things blush + pink. i waited until the tender age of 30 to fall in love with such a delicate + “feminine” color. i find the colors quite tantalizing + seductive.  

this obsession has spread to my wardrobe, my artwork and i am currently reupholstering vintage furniture in the most amazing blush/pink fabric, wait until you see the finished gems, you shall receive your life.      

Itanekeya word

editor•in•chief

art, literature + culture editor



sources:

I. model: grace bol

photographer: wendelien daan

elle netherlands, august 2012

II. balloons [anon]

III. doors

IV. model: grace jones

photographer: herman leonard

paris, 1969

V. patina

VI. india [anon]

VII. neon

VII. blush sofa [anon]

VIII. pink smoke [anon]

 

quickly becoming one of my favorite photos, because my mommy photographed me painting. i always wondered what my mommy saw when she stared at me painting. as an artist herself, she chose to pursue healthcare to make a “better” life for her daughters instead of living her dreams. my mother told me because she made that sacrifice, i am now here living her dreams + mine in the arts. my soul rejoiced over a mother’s love, dedication + sacrifice. this photo will forever remind me of our moment: artist to artist + mother to daughter. ❤️ turban by: @themcbproject

They're no Robotics + flying objects in your work; is it still Afrofuturistic?

This may sound radical to some, but I do not believe in order for the African Diaspora to make it into the future that we must look like Androids or Aliens or have the ability to fly—these are cool though. Afrofuturism utilizes science fiction elements like super powers: are we not telepathic, forward thinking, ambiguous, layered beings who are genetically coded with futurist/supernatural capabilities? We have always created awesome culture out of the bare minimum. I have yet to see the average person of the African Diaspora with any robot parts and they’re still pretty damn spectacular. We’re walking, talking, breathing magicians—don’t forget that you are the future—you can even keep your delicious brown skin too, no need to trade in those thighs for a chrome set. I’m re-imagining us, Black women in our own bodies—because I actually love the skin that I’m in. 

-Tanekeya Word

5

my instant polaroid film test shoot proofs, for the inaugural issue of neonV: the magazine for the contemporary peculiar woman.”

photographer: kea dupree photography ©MMXII

hair: manouchka massillion

jacket: planet maud vintage

shirt: the original david

skirt: sofistafunk skirt co.

What's More Sci-Fi than...

“What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?”

- Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

 

After reading this quote, I closed the book and pondered—it was an Aha moment for me. I instantly knew that the rhetorical question had the fluidity to extend past Santo Domingo and into the lives of pluralistic people, especially those who had suffered historic oppression. Black is Afrofuturistic. 

 

When I think of science fiction and the escapism culture, I think of the African Diaspora and Afrofuturism, I think of the ways in which subcultures emerge out of resiliency and the need to shift the perspectives of a people. I of course, went straight to what I knew—Afrofuturism—as a Black woman. The escapist notion, can be applied to many ethnicities—that have been oppressed—although cultural nuances do apply, hence the Afro leading into futurism here.  

I recently saw someone reference their work as Afrofuturism; they were not of the African Diaspora. It bothered me on impact. I have a problem with cultural appropriation, even when someone is naive to the fact. So, I simply urged them to seek how their ethnicity and the oppression of their people were rooted in escapism culture. From there, to move into what that means for their culture—it wouldn’t be the same as Afrofuturism though. Was it my place to say so? Hell yeah.    

Interview: On Afrofuturism + Gender

Alley Pezanoski-Browne [APB]: You’re the first person I’ve seen talk about Afrofuturist Feminism, and I’m curious to hear more about what that term means to you, as opposed to cyberfeminism or just Afrofuturism.

Tanekeya Word [TW]:

Afrofuturist Feminist: women and men of the African Diaspora, whose works are Afrofuturistic, yet they view Afrofuturism through a *micro lense [women], and *macro lense [men], of Feminism. They analyze, deconstruct, and recode, the past and present continuum of women in the African Diaspora, while imagining what it will be like in the future to journey as a woman of the African Diaspora.

*Note: I believe that both women and men can champion “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Yet, I understand that a woman is microscopically closer to home in this arena; a woman has a different coding to equip her with accurately depicting every space of womanhood, and thoroughly voicing the needs of women. Therefore, the overall advocacy of Feminism is genderless; yet the authentic voice of it is sheer woman. 

Cyberfeminism vs. Afrofuturistfeminism

There are differences and sameness on some accounts within cyberfeminism versus afrofuturistfeminism, I’ll list the basics. Cyber Feminists and Afrofuturist Feminists agree that Western Marxist/socialist/radical feminism, rooted in class conflict and gender roles to create a naturalize unity amongst women left no room in their structure for race, therefore for decades othering the Black body within feminism.

In an effort to keep this portion short since most futurist feminists are familiar with Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” cyber feminism is rooted in science/machine/technology/genderlessness; it sees Science Fiction as post-modernist and the group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of White Capitalist Patriarchy versus Informatics of Domination. It imagines a utopian world without an origin and negates gender.

Afrofuturist Feminism is rooted in ethnicity and gender; understanding their African Diasporian continuum, the group sees their supernatural ambiguity to shape-shift in natural and manifested surroundings as a genealogical code that predates post modern Science Fiction. The group’s main framework is dependent on the binaries of ethnicity and womanhood versus everything that marginalizes and oppresses their group—including technology if necessary—yet, it openly embraces technology as a choice, and not as the final option, to further the African Diasporian continuum.

Afrofuturist Feminists do not negate their history as the group works on a continuum of past, present, future and must utilize the Sankofa principle of “it is not wrong for one to go back and take that which they have forgotten” or “simply go back and take,” therefore, they do not imagine a world without gender nor genesis. Simply put: Afrofuturist Feminists embrace ethnicity with technology, as long as technology doesn’t seek to marginalize the group, they do not need to eradicate the Black or female body nor the history it has witnessed. Utopianism for the group is keeping the Black female body by choice, and the body cohabitates with the world around it without being othered.

*Note: Afrofuturist Feminists shape-shift so, hybridization, including robotics, etc, may occur, but it’s not a permanent state that solely negates the Black female body.

 

 

[APB]: I know part of the power of Afrofuturism is that it’s individualistic and open. No one Afrofuturist musician is quite like any other. And I want to avoid pigeonholing and taxonomies. But in general, are there similarities and differences between male Afrofuturist musicians and female Afrofuturist musicians?

[TW]: I would venture to say that Afrofuturism is not individualistic. That’s really a Western and post-modernist fragmented view of Afrofuturism. As a Diaspora we are coded to be community oriented and over time, pieces of the culture have fragmented, yet we are still a community, open to the many possibilities within our continuum.  Afrofuturists male and female musicians are not polar opposites. Afrofuturist musicians from Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly + the Family Stone, Betty Davis, LaBelle, Earth, Wind & Fire, Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Grace Jones, Prince, Janet Jackson, Digital Underground, Afrika Bambaataa, Cee-lo, TLC, OutKast, Lil Kim, Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Pharrell, Kelis, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Santigold, Nicki Minaj, Solange, Flying Lotus, TheeSatisfaction, Deep Cotton, Saint Heron’s Sampha, Kelela, and BCKingdom etc have consistently embraced their ethnicity, peculiarities, and gender, also their power tends to blur the lines of sexuality in many cases. 

The Black body is symbolically objectified as hyper-sexualized throughout Western History; yet Afrofuturist musicians’ focus is not to push their sexuality to the forefront of their music, it is in fact to infuse their hypnotic, transcendent nature into their music and performance to capture the audience to think and imagine. Albeit, the women and men do sexy very well, it is their peculiar nature that makes one rethink the many forms of the Black woman and man. If Betty Davis’s Nasty Gal aesthetics didn’t make you think and feel then, take the Queen Bee, Lil Kim, for example, as hard as Hardcore was the colorful wigs in the “Crush On You” video and that infamous mermaid purple ensemble at the 1999 MTV Music Awards certainly blurred the lines of ‘Is she nasty, is she sexy, is she quirky, is she innovative…wow, you can be Black, woman, and powerfully all of the above.’ Andre 3000 and Prince took Sun Ra’s ensembles to an entirely new level—still man—their choice of attire is not your typical suit and tie. 

 

[APB]: Why are Afrofuturist musicians interested in creating cyborg and alien alter-egos?

[TW]: At the foundation of it all, all artists create what they know. Afrofuturist musicians have an innate, ambiguous shape-shifting quality within them. I believe they now feel that it is safe, therefore it is time to manifest it on a mainstream level.

 

[APB]: What do you see as the future for Afrofuturism?

[TW]: We are the future; I see the African Diaspora fully embracing our continuum, what Afrofuturism will evolve into is surely going to be sheer utopic genius.

 

[APB]: I’d like to talk about Afrofuturism as a phenomena of the diaspora. Are there Afrofuturist musicians in Africa and the Caribbean that you wish more people knew about? Or Afrofuturist musicians in the United States that not enough people know about?

[TW]: Afrofuturism is not a phenomena, it has been brewing for centuries hence the Pyramids etc. Mainstream Western society has caught on to the concept without feeling too afraid of it as of now…remember it was called Black Magic before when it was misunderstood. Yet, since it is being linked to science and technology, which Western society understands as they have assisted in its creation, Westerners now have a basis of understanding a percentage of the concept without feeling overwhelmingly terrified.

I have yet to venture deeply into Afrofuturism outside of the U.S. as cultural nuances exist within the African Diaspora. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “There is no single story,” so I want to dig deeper into my history, as an African American/Black American, and leave the other wonderful Afrofuturists in the Caribbean, Africa, Afro-Latinos and wherever the Diaspora has gone,  to tell their part of the story as it is closer to home and personal experiences are vital to our continuum. So, in the U.S. I’d encourage everyone to check out Solange’s new project Saint Heron, and Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Society as there are a few emerging Afrofuturists on the rise. Solange and Janelle are like the Octavia Butlers of the music industry right now—Afrofuturistic matriarchs transcending the world via authentic music.

 

[APB]: The term Afrofuturism was coined in the 1990s and existed far before then. Why do you think it’s capturing peoples’ attention now?

[TW]: Technology has made it cool to be other. Geek and Nerd culture is being embraced as well as Black culture in mainstream. To be other is so mainstream popular culture right now. How long the global fascination will last, I do not know…everything is cyclic.

 

[APB]: Also, please tell me more about your work!

[TW]: I love what I do, so my life is filled with doing…I should probably try to start playing more since I’m 30 lol!

 

Besides, being amongst the clouds and cosmos in my mind, I am currently working on lots of large-scale portraiture, which are works on paper, they are all of Afrofuturistic women with magical hair, to debut in 2014. I’ve literally cleared all of my old artwork from my website to make room for my return back to portraiture. I wanted a blank slate. I must say some of my best work to date is happening in the studio right now. Also, after 3 years of research and finding my voice in textile design, I’m finally getting into the technological side and designing and taking sewing classes. I hope to debut my first home décor collection in Spring/Summer 2015.

I am now the Editor-in-Chief with creative freedom at neonV, “the magazine for the contemporary peculiar woman.”  We have an amazing team of women debuting the new biannual print and digital structure in 2014.

I am 50% complete with applying to a new Doctoral program for Urban Education with a specialization in Arts Education and Community Arts. Educators run through my matriarchal lineage; I thought I would be a Professor later on in life, but it will happen in my 30s it seems. I am so excited about the possibility of serving.

Last, but certainly not least, I am an Arts + Culture Journalist for Solange Knowles’ new cultural hub SaintHeron.com

A is for Afrofuturism + Afrofuturists:

Afrofuturism: emphasis is on the artistic cultural production of the African Diaspora, and the utopian vision of a people re-imagining an escape from majority constructs, in order to re-create a context that situates them into majority—on their own playing field. 

Alondra Nelson’s definition:

Afrofuturists: are a group of people of the African Diaspora whose philosophy is postmodern; yet, their viewpoint is of Afrofuturism which is described as: “a way of looking at the world; it is a sort of canopy for looking at Black diasporic artistic production. It is even an epistemology that is really about thinking about the future, thinking about the subject position of Black people and how that is both alienating and about alienation and because the alien becomes to figure quite centrally in Afrofuturism—the outsider figure. It is also about aspirations in majornity and having a place in majornity and it is about speculation and utopia. Part of why it is Afrofuturism in particular is that part of resilience in Black culture and Black life is about imagining the impossible, imagining a better place, a different world” (Alondra Nelson, 2010).

She’s Gotta Have Game: A Call + Response Series.

Utilizing the African American vernacular tradition of Call and Response, She’s Gotta Have Game, is Andy Warhol’s call to painting the famous popular culture figures of the 80s, and my response situates the famous peculiar Black women throughout history, into what Spike Lee taglined as the “holy game” of basketball.  She’s Gotta Have Game is part Nola Darling in She’s Gotta Have It and part Jesus Shuttlesworth in He’s Got GameIn this utopian sphere, women are re-imagined as the powerful players & not the stereotypical groupies. Layered in meanings, this series goes beyond the court.

I. title: "Tanekeya: Home Court Advantage" [detail view]
dimensions:     22”x30”
materials: cold pressed 140lb. watercolor paper, holographic paper, gold leaf, indian ink, acrylic paint, gouache, latex paint, acrylic paint
©2013

II. title: “Solange: Losing You, Gaining Me” [detail view]
dimensions:     22”x30”
materials: cold pressed 140lb. watercolor paper, vintage paper, indian ink, acrylic paint, gouache, latex paint, acrylic paint
©2013

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