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A Look at Afrofuturism in Art and Design


When you hear the word Afrofuturism what first comes to your mind? A halo of black afro? Black Panther?

Simply put, Afrofuturism is a cultural philosophy that tries to re-imagine the future of Africa using technology, science fiction, history, fantasy and magical realism.

Unlike other forms of speculative fiction, Afrofuturism is centered on the black identity, African traditions and beliefs. Black Panther increased the awareness of this movement however you should know that Afrofuturism has been around as far back as the fifties.

Here is a quick summary of afrofuturistic themes in both art and design.

Afrofuturism in Fashion

Elaborate, colorful and bold are just a few words to describe afrofuturistic fashion. As more and more fashion designers explore the numerous possibilities open to Africans, afrofuturistic designs are steadily becoming the trend. Designers bring out the versatility of wax print by blending it with metal, leather, fur, cotton, you name it.

The result is aesthetic, creative and daring. Afrofuturistic fashion aims to portray the changing times in Africa. Examples of fashion designers who champion this movement include: Taibo Bacar from Mozambique and Selly Raby Kane from Senegal.

Selly is known for creating sci-fi infused designs that are recognized by Beyonce and Naomi Campbell. Of course there is Cyrus Kabiru who creates elaborate sunglasses from metals picked from the streets of Kenya.

In Nigeria, fashion photographer and film maker Daniel Obasi partnered with William Ukoh to create a fashion visual essay that explored the possibilities of afrofuturistic styles in Nigeria.  The visual essay, Lagosfuturism was a brilliant and successful attempt to redefine fashion and creativity amongst Africans.

After this successful attempt, Daniel later partnered with Vlisco to create a short fashion film to inspire the younger Nigerian generation. The film, Alien in Town, was centered on two young fashionistas who taught an alien how to fit into Lagos living.

Afrofuturism in Music

It’s no news that famous pop star, Beyonce champions Afrofuturism. Her visual work, Lemonade focused heavily on afrofuturistic feminism. Using symbols, famous black women and artists, Beyoncé focused on empowerment of black women, and the possibilities of freedom of expression in the future.

Other artists who portray afrofuturistic themes in music include Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar, Willow Smith, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West.  Janelle Monáe’s android alter-ego, fusion of electric music, funk and soul, symbolic representation of technology, history and culture, make her a relevant afrofuturistic artist to reckon with.

Likewise, American rapper Kendrick Lamar leaves trails of afrofuturistic influences in his rap songs. Themes like black empowerment and black supremacy are commonly used in his rap. Kendrick Lamar created the soundtrack for the Marvel Studios blockbuster movie, Black Panther.

Afrofuturism in Artwork

Mythology, history, technology and fantasy are accurately portrayed by afrofuturistic illustrators and artists who are intentional about creating alternate futures for the black nation.

Notable artists include American Joshua Mays, whose illustrations on women empowerment and femininity are displayed on buildings in Washington D. C, Portland, Mexico City, Denver and Philadelphia. Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan artist and sculptor who explores femininity and sexuality using mixed media collage. She currently works in Brooklyn New York.

Mshindo Kuumba is an illustrator who tries to recreate the natural environment using afrofuturistic themes. The effect is both stunning and whimsical. His works have appeared in comics like Jaycen Wise, Ebony Warrior, and Dynasty of the Magi.

Afrofuturism in Literature

Nnedi Okorafor tops the list. Author of the popular trilogy series Binti, Nnedi is skilled in blending science fiction, culture, mythology, and innovation into suspense filled thrillers.

Apart from Binti, she has also authored popular books like Zahra the Windseeker, He who Fears Death, and What Sunny saw in the Flames. She is currently working with Marvel comics on a spin off series for Black Panther’s Dora Milaje.

Other afrofuturistic writers include; Tomi Adeyemi, Rivers Solomon, Octavia E. Butler, Kodwo Eshun, Sherri Smith amongst others.

Afrofuturism in Design

Afrofuturism is also finding expression in design, landscape and architecture. For example, Burkina Faso architect, Diébédo Francis Kéré will forever be remembered for his design of the Serpentine Pavillion, which was a beautiful blend of traditional building materials and high tech design.

Another designer worthy of note is Nigerian designer, Yinka Ilori who recycles unwanted furniture. Also Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyemi designed a floating school using locally sourced materials and technology.  His aim was to encourage education and learning in flood prone areas in Africa.

In Botswana, Peter Mabeo is a furniture design who mixes and matches African design to show its diversity to the global market.

Afrofuturism in Movies

We can’t end this article without mentioning the afrofuturistic block buster Marvel Movie, Black Panther. Apart from being a huge commercial success, Black Panther has succeeded in encouraging and facilitating the movement all over the world. Black Panther had it all; the landscape, the buildings, space crafts, music, clothes, and of course fashion and style.

The effect was stunning and most people are yet to recover from the shock of it. For many Wakanda will remain alive in their hearts for a long long time.

Afrofuturism makes people conscious of the great possibilities available for the black nation. These possibilities are bold and they break the status quo.

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