They’re covering everything from OutKast to Octavia Butler!
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is opening a new exhibit entitled “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures.” The 4,000 square foot exhibition will feature rare artifacts, interactive technology and artworks to narrate how Afrofuturism has played a role in Black Americans shaping who we are in history, media and popular culture.
The term was coined in 1993 by culture critic Mark Dery who described Afrofuturism as a type of movement that uses Black culture to “reimagine, reinterpret, and reclaim the past and present for a more empowering future for African Americans.”
According to The Black Wall Street Times, UCLA Magazine writer Delan Bruce took it a step further, defining Afrofuturism as “a wide-ranging social, political and artistic movement that dares to imagine a world where African-descended peoples and their cultures play a central role in the creation of that world.”
An ever-evolving phenomena, writer Octavia Butler was one of the first to truly crystalize Afrofuturism in her work, centering Black narratives in science fiction. In a 2000 interview with journalist Charlie Rose, Butler explained why this type of reimagining was so important.
“You got to make your own worlds. You got to write yourself in. Whether you were a part of the greater society or not, you got to write yourself in. So I wrote myself in,” Butler told Rose.
The new exhibit will feature Butler’s work and personal items as well as more than 100 other objects from music, film, television, fashion, etc. that span more than a century of Afrofuturistic contributions to the cultural zeitgeist. Included are things from hip hop group OutKast, pieces from iconic designer Ruth E. Carter’s work on the set of Marvel’s “Black Panther,” George Clinton’s wig from Parliament-Funkadelic and Travyvon Martin’s flight suit from his time at Experience Aviation.
“To think on Afrofuturism is to consider what the National Museum of African American History and Culture has long been dedicated to—that is, the bright future that Black people imagined and brought into being while confronting a perilous present. Afrofuturism has also long been a mix of celebration and resistance, musicality and theatricality, achievement and survival. Much of this mix-making and myth-making was through music, from the Negro spirituals down to jazz and gospel, funk and hip-hop,” explained Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the NMAAHC.
The exhibit is divided into three sections, “The History of Black Futures,” exploring how enslaved Black people used Afrofuturism to plot their liberation, “New Black Futures,” an array of ideas, practices, productions, etc. related to 20th century Afrofuturistic works used to unpack past racism in today’s society, and “Infinite Possibilities,” which explores how creators used art to create new worlds steeped in liberation and freedom.
“This exhibition is a way to look at how Afrofuturism has been practiced throughout history and across the diaspora, and the ways it is expressed, historically and in the present, through art, literature and activism. We hope that visitors learn more about this topic by seeing the various ways that Afrofuturism connects with and influences our popular culture and gain a broader understanding of Afrofuturism, not simply as a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy, but as part of a larger tradition of Black intellectual history,” explained curator Kevin Strait.
“Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” will be on display at the NMAAHC from March 24, 2023 to March 24, 2024. For more information on the exhibit and to reserve your visitors passes, visit www.nmaahc.si.edu.
Cover photo: National Museum of African American History opening new Afrofuturism exhibit/Photo Courtesy of NMAAHC