Janelle Monáe Learned from the 60s: Lorde’s Legacy in Dirty Computer

While speaking on Malcom X at Harvard in 1982, Audre Lorde foregrounded the imperative of intersectionality in social movements. Whereas most people maintain several complex, interacting identities, popular discourse often fails to account for more than one at a time. Lorde, however, distinguished herself as a fierce advocate for acknowledging, validating, and incorporating the variation of identity and experience within the black community, particularly as it pertains to gender and sexuality. In defining her politics, Lorde invoked her own identity, making it a corroborating point in the case for intersectionality: “As a Black lesbian mother in an interracial marriage, there was usually some part of me guaranteed to offend everybody’s comfortable prejudices of who I should be,” (4). With this statement, Lorde speaks to the importance of recognizing how various social identities can reach a nexus point in one individual.

In Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe employs an Afrofuturist narrative arc to epitomize Lorde’s doctrine of intersectionality.  Continue reading “Janelle Monáe Learned from the 60s: Lorde’s Legacy in Dirty Computer”

Butler: Emphasizing the “Afro” in Afrofuturism

Standard conceptualizations of Afrofuturism tend to focus heavily on the technological aspect of futurity, particularly as seen in Black Panther, with their tech developments, and even in Space is the Place, which foregrounds extraterrestrial exploration. In Parable of the Sower, however Octavia Butler presents an alternative approach to Afrofuturism that seems to prioritize the “Afro” aspect more heavily than a sci-fi based tech world. Although a dystopian science fiction, Parable of the Sower seem to examine more intensely the religious and communal structures within black culture that might contribute to an specifically black vision of the future: Continue reading “Butler: Emphasizing the “Afro” in Afrofuturism”

Afrofuturism in furniture

When I started looking for Afrofuturism case studies, I mostly understood the kinds of art that fell into the category, but really struggled to see more day-to-day manifestations of the same Afrofuturist impulse. Although I’ll probably end up doing my final project on Octavia Butler or another Afrofuturist literary figure, I found, for this assignment, a really interesting example of Afrofuturist design, specifically as it relates to furniture, which really departs from the text-based analyses we’ve primarily focused on so far.

Working out of London, the designer Yinka Ilori repurposes furniture in an up-cycling operation. Within this project, Ilori upgrades old furniture to make a statement on the value of “old” items and, furthermore, undermine the consumer society’s incentives to purchase constantly new products that don’t fill a need any greater than that product which one already has. To honor his heritage, Ilori decorates the upcycled furniture with vibrant colors and geometric designs, in the same vein as the dominant designs in Nigeria (the place to which he pays homage).

Based on what we’ve learned, Ilori’s work seems to epitomize the value that Snead puts on repetition within black culture: “Black culture highlights the observance of such repetition, often in homage to the original generative instance or act,” (65). Indeed, with his furniture, Ilori both honors Nigeria and rejects the principles of vapid consumerism that Snead explicitly associates with white culture.

The appropriation of black repetition

General understandings of time tend generally, but wrongly, to conflate change with progress. In Snead’s writing, however, he parses out the implications of repetition and change, particularly along the black/white racial distinction, in such a way that challenges an oversimplified, direct relationship between change and progress. Most effectively, Snead advocates that changes does not necessarily indicate progress, and, instead links black repetition with historical value, as opposed to white change/cultural cycles with capitalist values: “Black culture highlights the observance of such repetition, often in homage to an original generative instance or act … In European culture, financial and production cycles have largely supplanted the conscious sort of natural return in black culture,” (65-66). With these statements, Snead, whether intentionally or not, sheds light on the problem of white folks appropriating and coopting black culture, without understanding its resonance or implications. For the purposes of Snead’s argument, black and white cultures essentially function in a condition of opposites: black culture preserves the past, and white culture generates revenue for the future. When broken down this way, Snead’s thesis makes it obvious why the appropriation of repetitious black culture by people who don’t understand the “homage to an original .. act” essentially robs cultural elements of anything but their pure aesthetic value (65).

Libretto: Liberia within Afrofuturism

In Tolson’s Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, a moment arrived early in the piece that helped me conceptualize Tolson’s writing within the framework of Afrofuturism as the interface of activism and art/aesthetics; this section consisted of lines 9-16. Whereas Hegel defines Africa from a racist perspective, Tolson characterizes Liberia in juxtaposition, which entails direct refutation of depictions of Africa as “side-show” or “bio-accident,” (10). Continue reading “Libretto: Liberia within Afrofuturism”

The confidence of repetition in black culture

Standard conceptualizations of culture account for both tradition and, seemingly inevitably, progression as a function of passing time. In his analysis, however, Snead establishes white/European culture and black culture in a condition of opposites: whereas an impulse to transform imbibes white culture, a comfort with repetition characterizes black culture. Although ethnocentric observers like Hegel might conflate a penchant for repetition with “backwardness,” I think that, juxtaposed with white cultural flightiness, black repetition indicates soundness in identity  (Snead 63).

General invocations of white culture often exist in vague, yet deeply held, sentiments—like those expressed by white folks whose historical miseducation enables them to cherish, albeit inappropriately, Confederate iconography. Continue reading “The confidence of repetition in black culture”