St. Louis Afrofuturists Bring Black Speculative Art Home And To The World
Harris-Stowe State University professor Reynaldo Anderson has spent years nurturing and cultivating a black creative community around speculative art.
In early February, members of that community showcased their musical work and celebrated Black History Month at Harris-Stowe State University. It was the first night of the 2019 Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) in St. Louis.
“The term Black Speculative Arts Movement is kind of an umbrella term,” said Anderson, the co-founder of BSAM. “We’ll talk about philosophy, technology, even cosplay and performance.”
BSAM STL is part of a yearlong celebration that has spanned the globe and has showcased black speculative art from Los Angeles to New York and Atlanta to Toronto. This year, Romania and Kenya will be added to the list.
The organization will hold another St. Louis event this Sunday. The Black Speculative Arts Movement Festival will highlight the creative works of local and national black artists at the .ZACK.
BSAM began following a New York exhibit from Reynaldo and co-founder John Jennings. The two met during their undergraduate studies at Jackson State University. They presented Unveiling Visions: Alchemy of the Black Imagination, a 2015 exhibit on black speculative thought at the New York City Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
“There was a restlessness in the creative community at the beginning this decade, a dissatisfaction with a certain aspect with politics going on, and a desire to get the art and political ideas a platform,” Anderson said. “That lead to us forming, putting together the exhibition and then me subsequently writing the manifesto for the movement.”
Anderson’s manifesto centered around one of BSAM’s central themes, Afrofuturism 2.0. The concept builds on the first Afrofuturism movement beginning in the mid-1950s, combining science fiction, music and technology to imagine a fictionalized society through the arts. Anderson said this new wave is inspiring creatives around the world.
“Afrofuturists kind of have this after-the-end-of-the-world type of sensibility in terms of how they approach their art or how they forecast their creative expressions sometimes,” Anderson said. “Not everybody necessarily has a dystopian vision. Some have a utopian perspective that the future could possibly be better.”
BSAM focuses on the creative and cultural ideas of the cities it travels to. Anderson said St. Louis is experiencing an emerging Afrofuturistic scene. That scene will be one of the highlights the weekend festival.
“You would see mixed media, something that really speaks to both Sankofa, some sort of heavy African influence but also melded with machine, melded with technology in some sort of way,” said Dacia Polk, the creative arts director for BSAM STL and the curator for the Sunday event.
Sankofa is a West African word for “going back to get what was taken.”
The fusion of technology and the black body is an aesthetic many Afrofuturist artists portray in their work. That imagery is highlighted in "Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness," a book of essays on afrofuturism published by Anderson and University of Cincinnati professor Charles E. Jones. The book reexamines the genre to include modern concepts of immigration, globalization, climate change and technology. The book also displays the imagery of BSAM co-founder John Jennings.
The cover of the book was designed by Jennings, an artist and scholar who coined the term Black Speculative Arts Movement. His graphic designs will be displayed at the Sunday event. His distinctive style is partly inspired by his time overseas in Japan where he started seeing the usage of robotic imagery in artwork. He said he uses those same techniques to reimagine black bodies.
“I’m trying to hack into their bodies and actually open up the potential, because sometimes we’re kind of trapped into the stereotype that people have projected upon us,” Jennings said.
Jennings, Anderson and Polk agree that BSAM and Afrofuturism are not purely focused on science fiction, but are tied to critical social movements. Reynaldo views the connection between science fiction and black history as a natural fit. The relationship stands as a connection between the roots of black history and the future of black imagination.
“We’re going to celebrate 400 years of the first enslaved Africans arriving to Virginia this August,” Anderson said. “I suspect to those Africans who first came here it was as if they were kidnapped by aliens and brought here for certain types of experiments, and so there’s a creative parallel between African-American history and science fiction.”
If You Go:
- BSAM Festival
- Sunday, Feb. 24 | 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- .ZACK at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation | 3224 Locust St., St. Louis
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