Accepted Paper:

Afro-futures: Africa and the Black Arts Movement  

Author:

Tobias Wofford (Santa Clara University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Africa played an important role in the revolutionary rhetoric of the American Black Arts Movement (BAM) during the 1960s-1970s. No longer framed in terms of ancestry, artists of BAM saw Africa as full of revolutionary potential and framed the continent as a future utopia.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how Africa played an important role in the revolutionary rhetoric of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) in the United States during the 1960s-1970s. Larry Neal referred to BAM as the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power Concept." Indeed the artists of BAM sought to challenge white American hegemony through art and Africa was often at the center of this aesthetic revolution. The paper argues that, while previous African American artists understood their connection to Africa as situated in the past and framed in terms of ancestry, artists of BAM saw the continent as full of revolutionary potential and framed Africa as a future utopia. For example, in the art of Jeff Donaldson, Africa is often figured as an end-game in African American political and spiritual struggles. This concept is seen in painting like his 1971 Victory in the Valley of Esu, or in Majority from 1977. Yet, does this "Afro-furutism" reflect diasporic understandings of Africa as a place of return? Does this longing for an African future (that is also an idealized past) reflect what James Clifford referred to as diaspora's "antiteleological (sometimes messianic) temporality"? Further, how can this form of time shed light on the artistic and political exchanges between the continent and Africa in the 1960s and 1970s? The paper will end by exploring the ways in which Africa's role in the BAM resonate in later visual culture extending to today.

Panel P083
Revolution 3.0: iconographies of utopia in Africa and its diaspora