Afrofuturism, a term that was first coined in 1993 by Mark Dery, explores the intersection of African diaspora culture with science and technology. Often described as the fusion of imagination, technology and the future of liberation, afrofuturism has much to do with reclaiming identities or perspectives that have been lost due to prejudice and inequalities.

On view at the Hayward Gallery since June 29, 2022, In The Black Fantastic is a new exhibition exploring myth, science fiction, spiritual tradition and the legacy of Afrofuturism. This exhibit has been curated by the author of the book, In The Black Fantastic, Ekow Eshun.

This exhibition is an array of painting, photography, video, sculpture and mixed-media installations that create an aesthetic world of both reality and fiction. The exhibit focuses on encouraging curiosity and excitement for the future through the creative constructs of eleven well-known Black artists including Nick Cave, Wangechi Mutu, Sedrick Chisom, Chris Ofili, Ellen Gallagher and Kara Walker.

Installation view of Nick Cave’s work in In The Black Fantastic. Image courtesy of FAD Magazine.

According to Vogue Magazine, The Black Fantastic is “the UK’s first exhibition dedicated to the work of Black artists who use the realm of the fantastical to explore racial injustices and identity.”

The exhibition opens up with Nick Cave’s wearable sculptures. His vibrant costumes were created in response to the murder of Rodney King by the LA police in 1992. Cave’s Soundsuits sculptures have the power of movement and transformation with the ability to obscure race and gender. The exhibition continues with Wangechi Mutu’s work The End of eating Everything which offers a cosmic style video of a flying monster with a human-like figure, and sharp whips of hair contrasting against a hazy background. A story is played out where the monster figure meets a flock of birds and eats them before imploding into ash.

The End of eating Everything by Wangechi Mutu. Image courtesy of Art21 Magazine.

The work of Sedrick Chisom and his fantastical post-apocalyptic vision can be viewed on the lower level of the exhibition. Chisom’s art embodies the narrative of a world where all people of colour have left and the skin of the people remaining begins to darken.

A future-shock time warp by Sedrick Chisom. Image courtesy of Ocula.

Upstairs, the artwork of Chris Ofili and Ellen Gallagher is displayed. Chris Ofili’s work focuses on “retrieving scenes from The Bible and Homer’s Odyssey and bringing them to Trinidad,” according to The Guardian, while Ellen Gallagher “dives deep into Drexciya, the mythic Black Atlantis.”

The exhibit ends with the work of artist Kara Walker who uses cut-paper crafts to expose the racist history of the United States with shadow puppet imagery of a dark, dramatic utopia.

In an interview with DAZED Magazine, Ekow Eshun explains, “I sought to identify artists whose work then proceeds from that point, to offer their fantasies, constructions, and conceits. These works are given license by the social construction and fantasy of race, so they articulate new fantasies and possibilities, and new ways of imagining Black experience and Black presence.”

Eshun’s artistic philosophy of In The Black Fantastic highlights the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Reduced Inequalities as she emphasizes the beauty in African-originated belief systems, myths and histories resulting in an unconstrained proposition of Blackness without disruption from Western imagery.

Prince McVeigh and the Turner Blasphemies by Kara Walker. Image courtesy of DAZED Magazine.

In The Black Fantastic is about Blackness seen through the perspective of multiple lived experiences and illuminates the individual expression of each artist to embrace both myth and reality. A preview of the exhibition was published by Southbank Centre on YouTube with the link provided. In The Black Fantastic is being shown until the 18th of September so be sure to check it out while you can.

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