Dark Matter: A History of the Afrofuture 3 July 2022: Sunday on BBC Four
There is an uncanny resemblance between sci-fi and black history, including abduction by aliens, enslavement and rebellion. Some of the world’s most exciting artists and artworks have emerged out of this resonance have emerged, from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Grace Jones to Beyonce and Sun Ra. In this film, we meet and hear from artists across three continents who each, in their own way, explore the Afrofuture to look at the horrors of the past while also imagining alternative futures.
Told in four acts, Act 1, The Door of no Return, explores the collision of technology and blackness, focusing on the devastating and transformative experience of enslaved Africans during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Featuring enigmatic Detroit techno supremos Drexciya, along with visual artists Ellen Gallagher and Hew Locke, we see how each has taken the Atlantic Ocean – a site of violence, pain and loss – and through their work, imbued it with hope, beauty and new possibilities.
Space Is the Place – the 1972 recording and later film by visionary musician Sonny Blount aka Sun Ra, sets the tone of the second act. An exploration of time and space seen through a black lens. As with George Clinton, who similarly claims to have descended from another planet, Sun Ra’s taking on the persona of an alien is not simply escapism. It’s a critical response to the alienating experience of being black in America. It’s also no accident that Space Is the Place is set in Oakland, home to the Black Panthers and their earthly struggle against white supremacy. However, Ra offers an alternative destiny to the Panthers. Space Is the Place culminates in Oakland’s black youth ascending in his spaceship while the earth below is destroyed.
Following in the footsteps of those fictional ‘Afronauts’ is mysterious multidisciplinary artist Tavares Strachan. His performance piece, Star City, Training in Six Parts sees Strachan visit the famous Russian space centre to undergo the same rigorous – and often tortuous – training of the Cosmonauts. Strachan likens one of the exercises, which measures our common human ability to withstand disorientation and gravitational stress, to the conditions of his impoverished upbringing in the Bahamas.
The final act, Invisible Man, centres upon the idea of double consciousness. Coined in the early 20th century by WEB Du Bois, the influential African-American sociologist, it describes how black people in western societies see themselves twice over. Through their lived experience but also through the eyes of how they’re perceived within the dominant white culture. Curator and writer Ekow Eshun traces different uses of the idea through Ralph Ellison’s lauded mid-20th-century novel Invisible Man, and painter Kerry James Marshall’s image of the same title, right up to the Black Lives Matter movement. Predicated upon recordings of anti-black violence, Eshun argues that these ‘expose’ a double consciousness at work – the world as experienced and seen through black eyes, laid bare for all to witness.
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About the Show
This show is broadcast on BBC Four, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.