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Black futurism: The creative destruction and reconstruction of race


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The winter issue of Art Practical, focusing on artists’ responses to racism and economic inequity, has just gone live. In a piece entitled “Black Futurism: The Creative Destruction and Reconstruction of Race,” Nettrice Gaskins examines contemporary works that imagine blackness as able to “travel on its own, separate and distinct from black people.” Here’s a snippet:

Contemporary black artists often refute conventional notions or images of blackness and replace them with altered realities. Their works exist in the social imaginary between the symbolic and the real—avatars with alternate, hybrid, or cyborg identities, surrounded by worlds that stimulate the viewer’s awareness of the future. Wangechi Mutu’s video The End of Eating Everything features the head of the musician and singer Santigold consuming flocks of black birds. Slowly, the frame expands to reveal a massive “she-planetoid, comprising writhing limbs and embedded, useless machinery, powered by her/its own gaseous effluent.” Mutu’s collage Agave You portrays an encounter between a tree and a female pseudo-cyborg whose tentacles take root in the earth. In Pumzi, the character Asha, more scientist than cyborg, escapes enslavement and ecological devastation by sacrificing her body to grow a germinating seed.

Returning to Coleman’s “race as technology”—denaturing race from historical references—and futuristic expressions of style, rhythm, dance, and the body in art, we can see the formation of a social imaginary that disrupts the syntax. In Reifying Desire 6, a video installation presented at the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Jacolby Satterwhite explores the narratives of his queerness in a surreal universe, mixing 3D animation, digital drawings, and footage of himself performing in a spandex bodysuit and sculpted headpiece. “I wanted a gestation-cycle video where I get impregnated and give birth to a new language system,” Satterwhite says. “All these elements create a friction, a thunderstorm.” Saya Woolfalk’s ChimaTek™ demonstrates the workings of a synthesizing, hybridizing machine that remixes identities to create hybrid human-plant creatures.

Image: Wangechi Mutu, The End of Eating Everything, 2013 (film still). Via Art Practical.