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Speculative Histories & Futures

Four international artists and scholars, Dr. Tiffany E. Barber, Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde (ayo), Kite, and Jonas Staal, will discuss this panel’s titular terms in relation to their own work, expanding the terms however they desire, with moderator Safiyah Cheatam.


The term “speculative” has been applied to numerous fields of thought and action since ancient times. Aristotle and Plato debated the speculative nature of theory, versus the logical nature of praxis. The first 17th-century European settlers on the land we currently occupy in North America engaged in speculative finance to wrest land from its occupants, thereby colonizing it. In the last few decades, the adjective has been applied to more specifically visual fields of research, a development reflecting the term’s Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root “spek” – to observe. From Speculative Design, a term coined in the 1990s by Anthony Dunne, who along with Fiona Raby promoted the practice at the Royal College of Art, to the Black Speculative Art Movement with its roots in Afrofuturism, as described by Reynaldo Anderson in 2016, visual culture ignited the idea of this panel to discuss “Speculative Histories and Futures.”


For more information on the panelists, visit here.

Yarrow Mamout: Weaver of Islam, Counter-Memory, and Afrofuturism in late 18th century Georgetown, DC

A Smithsonian's Claiming Space Symposium video essay uplifting a local legacy of Black Muslim resilience, self-determination, and success within the realm of Afrofuturism. 


This presentation is part of the Terrestrial Space theme, as organized by the January 27-29, 2022 Claiming Space Symposium. For more information on video presentations, visit here.

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From Counter-Memory to Counter-Culture: Black Islam in the U.S. Through a Mundane Afrofuturist Lens

This graduate thesis is a multi-generational look at moments of Mundane Afrofuturism (as theorized by Martine Syms) within the lives of Black Muslims in the U.S., emphasizing the concepts of counter-memory and counter-culture as key cultural and political approaches toward subversion and innovation. Consisting of three artworks, the exhibition space is intended to act as an unveiling of information, recognizing Black folks’ historical and ongoing relationship to accessing knowledge. 

Making a Case for W.E.B. Du Bois as a Proto-Afrofuturist

This essay situates political activist, sociologist, and artist (amongst many additional attributes) William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868 - 1963) within the foundational framework of Afrofuturism. Coined by writer and critic Mark Dery in 1993, the term Afrofuturism denotes creative works - artistic, literary and musical - that seek to envision a more equitable space for Black livelihood in the future. Implicit within Afrofuturism is a critique of a society where Black people currently are, and historically have been, victims of a multitude of systemic oppressions. Referring to Martine Sym’s theories of the mundane versus fantastic aspects of Afrofuturism in her film The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto (2015), in this essay I study specific actions and moments in Du Bois’ life in which he engages with both the “mundane” and the fantastical aspects of Afrofuturism. I position Du Bois’ political actions and sociologcal research, such as his debate with Booker T Washington’s 1895 “Atlanta Compromise” and his data visualizations in The Georgia Negro: A Social Study (1900), within the mundane aspect of Afrofuturism. Conversely, I frame Du Bois’ speculative fiction writings, such as The Princess Steel (1908-1910) and The Comet (1920), within the fantastical. By claiming Du Bois as a Proto Afrofuturist, I assert Du Bois’ contemporary relevance. Du Bois wrote from the same tech-driven core we use to operate big data with today. Perusing the clear afrofuturist mindset in the praxis of W.E.B. Du Bois’ life’s work helps to situate him firmly within the Black Radical Tradition.    

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Golden Record: Take Two

A short review of Philadelphia-based artist Suldano Abdiruhman's multimedia artwork Voyager 3 (Signs and Symbols Aliens Should Know and Understand) (2017) which includes an ink on canvas painting, an  accompanying booklet and iPod.


Rethinking NASA’s 1977 Voyager 1 & 2 expeditions, Abdiruhman seeks to ask “What would the Golden Record look and sound like curated by me?” 

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On Perception: Reality and Approaching Renewal

This essay combines the thoughts of John Berger's Ways of Seeing, Jean Baudrillard's The Precession of the Simulacra, and Rebecca Solnit's The Annihilation of Time and Space to examine how humans have evolved to perceive space-time in regard to the industrial revolution(s); semiotics and iconology; and simulation-based media.  


A Black Space

This essay surveys Towson University’s Center for the Arts Spring 2017 Dark Humor exhibition featuring artists Joyce J. Scott and Peter Williams in addition to situating Radcliffe Bailey’s 2008-2011 installation Windward Coast within the fold of Afrofuturism by way of guest lecturer Nikki A. Greene.