Afro Futurism event at Providence Public Library, part of Portals exhibition

On Afrofuturism, Motherships, and Afronauts

April 29, 2016

parliamentConfession: No one would ever consider me a sci-fi aficionado. Ever. Music has always been my escape and where my imaginings of my place in a futuristic, fantastical world have lingered. Early P-Funk, anyone? While my geek flag is planted squarely in the intersection of better librarianship through technology, peering into a topic like Afro-Futurism has been daunting.

What is Afro-Futurism? There are many definitions out there but one that gets right to the point of the matter comes from Wikipedia:

“[Afrofuturism] is a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. First coined by culture critic Mark Dery in 1993, and explored in the late 1990s through conversations led by scholar Alondra Nelson, Afrofuturism addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.”

GallagherThough not officially given a name until the 90’s, Afrofuturism forbearers include musician George Clinton (whose catalogue included many an extraterrestrial voyage as early as the 70’s), writer Octavia Butler, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the legendary Sun Ra.

Afrofuturistic leanings can be seen in today’s contemporary artists including singer Janelle Monae, jazz phenom Kamasi Washington and Providence-born visual artist Ellen Gallagher.

Fast forward to May 9, at the Providence Public Library: We are thrilled to have Rasheedah Phillips, Author and Creator of The AfroFuturist Affair lead the DIY Timescapes workshop. Phillips and attendees will explore the history of linear time constructs, the future and contrast it with African traditions of space, time and the future, and construct a quantum time capsule.

Sign up for DIY Timescapes: Black Quantum Futurism and Alternative Temporalities workshop happening Monday, May 9 at 6:00pm at PPL.

Sources and Select Additional Reading

About the Author

BEATRICE PULLIAM is Director of Technology & Information Services at PPL, as well as director of She spent her adolescent years going to shows and has seen the Mothership and Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk a few times. She also likes shiny things.