I’ve taken over the Midas blog to talk about my latest visit to the In The Black Fantastic exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London’s Southbank Centre. This exhibition was curated by Ekow Eshun and featured an impressive selection of eleven contemporary Black artists. I left the exhibition feeling inspired by all these artists’ articulations of their creativity and happy to discover voices that I was not aware of before.
Afrofuturism is a movement concerned with the experience and energy of modern Africans, with its roots in the African American culture during the 90’s. When you think of it, it involves hybridity, blending history with fantasy and even science fiction by the likes of African American author, Octavia Butler. There were loads of highlights from the show, but I managed to narrow my top takeaways to five points:
Afro-futurism is a social and political statement
This exhibition was a multi-sensory experience which provided spacious ground to try to capture aspects of Black identity definitely had its share of difficult themes, including the impact of the violence during the American civil war, as explored by Sedrick Chisom in his oil paintings. The personal is political and the political becomes personal in this fabulous exhibition.
Video is a powerful medium in exhibitions
It’s clear in today’s media and communications landscape that video is everything. Social media platforms reflect this shift, as they develop short-form video content like Instagram implementing Reels to keep up with the skyrocketing success of shortform video apps like Tiktok. In art, though film is a respected medium, it isn’t always available in exhibitions, due to the typical bias towards two dimensional art, especially painting. Tabita Rezaire had a film installation where moving images were projected onto a pyramid structure, a unique an eye catching highlight of the exhibition.
There are many, many untold stories to be told by African artists.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Afro-futurism is a way of telling stories that are not only unique to African people but also told in a way that has never been done before. As an artist, it can be hard to navigate your own style while maintaining this kind of vision. In The Black Fantastic shows us that it is possible and even necessary to continue creating art from this perspective. There are many untold stories to be told by African artists—and there will always be new perspectives based on evergreen issues, identity, war, displacement and more.
Mixed-media and collage artworks are on the rise
Art as a field and skill is often relegated to the idea of two dimensional paintings and sculptures. Collage is a medium close to my heart as a black collage artist myself, so it was amazing to see such a high-profile exhibition celebrating work that involves cutting and pasting images and materials to create unique ideas. Wangechi Mutu had some fascinating portrait-like collages that serve as a dream to any abstract, surrealist fans, and Rashaad Newsome’s punchy, bold collages were filled with fire imagery and
The importance of Black-led storytelling
The exhibition is a showcase black artists making boundary pushing work today. Some of these are canonised male artists, like the Turner Prize winning Chris Ofiili. However, there were a healthy amount of black, female artists who are making incredible work and challenging the art world. The featured artists include Lina Iris Victor, Wengechi Mutu and Kara Walker, whose work has been inspiring audiences for generations.
Ultimately, this exhibition makes a strong case for the continued political and creative importance of Afro-futurism. All the featured artists boldly imagined furturistic and innovative renderings that spoke to and disrupted contemporary notions of blackness, and the constraints of what ‘Black art’ has to entail. To create a modern image, Chris Ofili blended imagination and myth in his allusion to Greek legend in his painting, Kiss (Odysseus & Calypso), a pastel dreamscape with bold lines and a striking emotional quality. Works like these that draw from the past to articulate a fresh vision, represent the amazing potential of Afrofuturism.
In The Black Fantastic was both a feast for the eyes and an intellectual journey through the minds and consciousness of artists who capture different elements of blackness, blending past, present and future to create a vivid myth for the Black diaspora to return to. Acknowledging the diverse range of skills and experiences within blackness, this exhibition’s laser sharp focus on contemporary Black voices an absolute delight. Get over there before it closes on September 18th!