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