Making Africa: Reclaiming The Narrative
To think about the future is to think about one’s possibilities in the world, and I have oftentimes said that the future belongs to Africa, because it seems to have happened everywhere else already
– Okwui Enwezor
In 1994, writer, poet, and critic, Mark Dery penned his essay Black to the Future. In this essay Dery questioned why there were so few African and African-American writers working within science-fiction as a genre. For Dery, it didn’t make sense – the lived, African experience in America was, in itself, the plot of a science fiction novel. Follow along if you will: alien invaders capture a group of people, take them to a far off land, they are forced to learn a new language, tortured for the sake of profit, histories are wiped away, and technology is used to control them. Most importantly, what came from Dery’s essay was new language – the term Afrofuturism. Using fine and performance arts, technology, and design as mediums, Afrofuturism seeks to reclaim, and shape the narratives of African peoples, to raise existential questions about the future, and to challenge power. Without a doubt, Afrofuturism existed long before Dery coined the term – one would only need to look to Sun Ra, George Clinton and P-Funk, or even as far back as the ancient Egyptians.
But, was Dery on to something, given the lack of Black writers imagining out loud the possibilities of the future on a large platform? In an effort to redirect the narrative and wonder aloud the possibilities of the future, Africans – across the continent – have been doing what they’ve always done: innovate.
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, for their exhibit, Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design. Curated by Okwui Enwezor – A Nigerian writer, educator, and curator – Enwezor assembled a collection artists that have helped shape and redirect the narrative surrounding African design, and push back against the colonial powers that came to dominate the African design during the 20th century.
Though there were many artists that were featured, one in particular stood out – Wale Oyejide, a Nigerian, fashion designer, lawyer and musician, who operates under the moniker, Ikire Jones. Prior to seeing Oyejide’s work in the exhibit, I had been following him for a few years via his fashion blog – Less Gentlemen, a street style, fashion blog based out of Philadelphia. The site grew from being a blog to a fashion line specializing in elaborate scarves and handkerchiefs that re-imagined African people in the past, as well as looking forward. Oyejide’s work often recreates individual works from the perspective, and centering the vantage point, of Africans, paying homage to 18th century textiles and tapestries. Oyejide’s imaginative approach to storytelling via fashion can be best seen in his work In Lagos 2081 A.D., In Paris 2081 A.D., which depicts African men in print suits, flying cars, and exploring vibrant cities of the future.
Oyejide’s contributions are more than simply fashion statements – they are contributions to reclaiming a narrative and writing ones future. His imaginative and unique style has extended beyond the fashion world, as some of his pieces will be featured in Marvel’s Black Panther, and has been used in the cover art of Big K.R.I.T.’s 4 Eva Is Mighty Long Time. Oyejide is just one of many artists that are imagining out loud the possibilities of what the future can hold, and the narratives that will be shaped by African people. To quote Chinua Achebe, until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunters. Thankfully, there are a group of fearless artists that are willing to write this history as well as what’s to come.