During a month focused on Black History, Afrofuturism celebrates visions of Black futures.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
In non-COVID times, if you wandered into the Saint Mary’s Library lobby, you may have noticed different displays on a variety of topics. While the Library building may be closed, these exhibits live on in virtual form. The library's current virtual exhibit on Afrofuturism, a part of 44 Days Honoring Black History: "Telling Our Own Stories,” is available online as part of the library's virtual catalog from February 8 through March 23.
Afrofuturism is a genre of literature, film, music and visual arts that blends features of science fiction and futuristic themes along with elements of Black culture. The exploring Afrofuturism library display provides a basic definition of afrofuturism, as well as links to works of afrofuturistic fiction, film, and scholarship.
The Afrofuturism virtual exhibit was curated by Saint Mary’s Librarian Gina Lee Kessler, who created the exhibit after an invitation from the College’s Black Lives Matter subcommittee that was sent to the different departments on campus inviting them to become involved in 44 days. Kessler became aware of the concept of Afrofuturism after witnessing the popularity of the Black Panther film.
“I think it was after Black Panther came out I noticed that I became a lot more attuned to this lens to look at literature and music and such that Black writers and artists and scholars were making,” Kessler said. She noted that although Afrofuturism is not a new genre, the rising popularity may come in part from publishers recognizing a need to show stories from more diverse authors featuring diverse characters.
She created the exhibit as a way to share resources she has found interesting on the topic. Kessler says that Black history month is often very focused on Black trauma, and that Afrofuturism in itself is a liberating concept because it focuses on Black futures.
She also believes that Afrofuturism “also makes the very radical assertion that there are Black people in the future; whereas a lot of sci-fi just only talks about white people, as if they are making the assertion that our current time is focused on whiteness, and looking into the future there will only be white people too.”
Kessler thinks that Afrofuturism is more necessary than ever in our current times. Despite the dystopian themes often found in Afrofuturistic works, she believes that Afrofuturism is really rooted in hope.
“Sci-fi and fantasy are great ways to escape our difficult realities and these have been especially difficult years, for everyone but especially for Black people and people of color. I think that there may be an increased embrace of Afrofuturism as a method of escapism where people actually see themselves in these stories,” Kessler said.
Kessler also wants to acknowledge that as a white person, there may be some problematic aspects to her being the creator of the exhibit. She notes that the exhibit is not meant to be an authority on the topic of Afrofuturism but rather a collection of resources. The exhibit is also open to community feedback and offers a suggestion box where people can submit more suggestions of Afrofuturist works that may have been omitted.
“If anyone reading this article has any suggestions for works we’ve omitted and that should have a place in the library, that is totally welcome, and they should submit that form and I’ll see what I can do to add it,” Kessler said. “We totally welcome community collaboration on this to try to account for my blindspots as a white person making this for 44 days of honoring Black history."
Ryan Ford '23,