Envisioning Black Livelihoods:
Filling a Void with Things Imagined (2019 –)
Community arts facilitation, three mirrors, vinyl text
Approx 6’ x 10’
This project is an on-going facilitated community arts series creating space for Black people to speak freely and engage with a work that prompts the documentation of Black imagination. This includes a found-footage collage video of prominent Black artists’ and writers’ related thoughts. Participants answered and challenged the prompt question, “If you were truly free, what would your future look like?” and along with the alternative, “Unlimited and unbound, how do you imagine your ideal future”? We found that the latter prompt evoked a more active response, and the word “unlimited” offered more in comparison to “free” in that unlimited brings to mind what does limit people and free feels more broad and unspecific. This question is intended to recognize intersectional Black identities and avoid explicitly excluding White folk as a means of rejecting further marginalization by decentering their gaze on the work and during facilitation. Participants were encouraged to inscribe drawings and texts onto a black halo-silhouetted, circular mirror. The design of the mirror reclaims the iconic nimbus symbol, releasing it from the reign of European, White, Christian hegemony. Referencing what I believe to be the core message of Afrofuturism--collective and self-recovery via Black uplift, this piece takes on its own form of spirituality by rooting itself in healing from the oppressive present by reimagining home (comfort, safety, etc.). This project is intended to capture my community’s current state of mental and emotional health, concerns, and misgivings while fostering healing through a welcoming and safe space for expression. Hand-written and -drawn documentation of these facilitations provide proof of presence in a world constantly trying to erase us.
Formalizing this project led to the question, how can I draw from Afrofuturism which frequently portrays tech-morphed Black bodies but from an iconoclastic Islamic approach, where such depictions are taboo? In an effort to portray the Black human body with a strong sense of visual storytelling, I chose to incorporate the body through reflection. When approaching this mirror installation, one’s image is framed within the halo, thus given the reverence and stature traditionally associated with the symbol. I favor Martine Syms’ position in The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto (2015) that “the mundane” should be highlighted within the ideology and art movement of Afrofuturism.