How Would Graphic Designers Represent Themselves Through Afrofuturism?
Content by Justin Smith | Cover Illustrated by Terrence Moline
What is Afrofuturism?
Afrofuturist author Ytasha Womack describes Afrofuturism as “combining elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western beliefs…a re-envisioning of the past and speculation about the future with cultural critiques.”
Despite being coined in 1994 by Mark Dery, the word has an extensive lineage.
Reynaldo Anderson, a professor who set the groundwork for Afrofuturist literature, explains Afrofuturism’s origins in the speculative fiction genre.
Older Visual Artists Who Would be Considered Afrofuturists
A go-to example of Afrofuturism is the leader and founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, George Clinton. Graphic artist Pedro Bell, is behind the group’s album art. His stylized album covers were influenced by comic books, surrealism, and outsider art; which allowed him to turn them into remarkable works that are still memorable today.
In the mid-1980s, emcee, graffiti writer, sculptural artist Rammellzee would have been considered an Afrofuturist. He formulated his own visual language called “Gothic Futurism”. He envisioned his own perspective on hip-hop language, music, art, and sound.
In various areas of design, Afrofuturism’s presence is growing, from the Brutalist-inspired African architecture to the West African-inspired typography in Black Panther. In addition, a German media art platform has created an Afrofuturism exhibition: Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-invention. This includes a magazine with its own typeface. Afrofuturism holds much value in graphic design history and deserves acknowledgment.
Afrofuturistic artists take part in their own interdisciplinary research by developing new processes and envisioning methods by which black people can actualize themselves. Contemporary artists are forming their own ideas about Afrofuturism, enhancing “intersectional perspectives” as opposed to Eurocentric ideals that operate over “universal truths”. Just like how a designer creates out of a process, these artists imagine new spaces of thought that allow Afrofuturism to flourish.
Known for her “Distant Relatives: Familiar Faces” series, Jessi Jumanji is a prime example of Afrofuturist art and design. She combines her awareness of African history, black pop culture, nature, and cosmology. To her, knowledge of self is the link to our historical significance and belonging.
Design Research for the Future
Mixed media artist Adam Pendleton, created the Black Dada Reader, a collaged book that reimagines the Dada movement with black aesthetics. For example, he references Sun Ra to Stokely Carmichael. The book channels Pendleton’s Black Dada theory about making ‘radical juxtapositions’ between European Dadaism and The Black Arts Movement. He used these breaks in logic and history to bring people together.
Ultimately, this is why I created my blog, Afrovisualism. I write and post curated content on Graphic Design, Visual Art, and Black Aesthetics. The purpose of Afrovisualism is to give context on how we engage with black visual culture.