Cinema Afro-Futurism

Date: 14 December 2019

Venue: HANGAR – Centro de Investigação Artística, Lisboa

Film Projection: 18h30
Discussion: 20h

Pride Art Showcase Bauhaus PosterAn interdisciplinary movement, Afro-futurism combines techno-scientific fundaments with elements of African cosmologies to forge a unique and inventive aesthetic and critically address the history of Africa and its dystopian constructions. By combining, according to Kodwo Eshun, a “critical” perspective and a “utopian” dimension, Afro-futurism recovers “the histories of counter-futures created in a century hostile to Afro-diasporic projection” and produces tools for political transformation. In addition to an aesthetic, Afro-futurism is a political programme that articulates the spatial (displacement through transcultural “contact zones”) and temporal dimensions (complex temporal and diegetic formations in which anachronism and the prefiguration of the future overturn the causality and the linearity of the modern Western narratives).

Bringing together a set of works (four short- and medium-length films) representative of the aesthetic and political programme of Afro-futurism, the event provides a short overview of afro-futurist cinema. A tension between modernism (the apocalyptical modernism of Los Angeles’ urban landscape) and primitivism (iconography and ritual) structures the experimental film Water Ritual # 1: An Urban Rite of Purification (1979), directed by Barbara McCullough, a filmmaker linked to the L.A. Rebellion movement. The transitions and superimpositions, exploring a principle of liquidity, evoke the transnational flows and structures of the “Black Atlantic”. Ben Caldwell’s I & I: An African Allegory (1979) also exemplifies the Black Film aesthetic of the L.A. Rebellion movement. Defined as a “trance film” by David James, I & I: An African Allegory contrasts Yoruba cosmology with the structures of late capitalism through experimental film forms and temporal, spatial, material and mediatic transitions (between moving images and photography, including Diane Arbus). If the title evokes the convergence between the enunciative, perceptive, and cognitive positions of “I” and “you” in Yoruba culture, the allegorical visual associations aim to figure the Middle Passage and the African Diaspora in the USA.

Taking Afro hair as its central motif, Beautiful People Know, directed by Angolan artist Keyeuza, establishes an intertextual dialogue with the history of video art to problematise the relationship between identity and alterity. The black female body becomes a political apparatus for intersectional desacralisation of Eurocentric categories and constituted knowledge. Finally, Yasmin Thainá’s Kbela (2015) deconstructs the stereotypes associated with the audiovisual representation of the black population. The film embraces an Afro-Brazilian film aesthetic resulting from the combination of Afro-futuristic elements with the reinvented forms and tropes of modern Brazilian cinema, from Glauber Rocha’s baroque features to pop psychedelia of part of Marginal Cinema. It works on decategorising through archetypal characters and aesthetic- narrative procedures, suppressing, for instance, all rigid separation between the material and the ritual spheres. Like Beautiful People Know, Kbela emphasises Afro hair as an instrument of empowerment and struggle against the Western standards of beauty.

The screening is followed by a talk between Ana Balona de Oliveira (Institute of Art History, University of Lisbon), Maíra Zenun (Federal University of Goiás), Michelle Sales (Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the 20th Century, University of Coimbra and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), and Raquel Schefer (Center for Comparative Studies, University of Lisbon and University of the Western Cape). Ana Balona de Oliveira will address afro-futurist aesthetics, while Maíra Zenum will focus on her artistic production, the aesthetics of self-representation of the black African cultures, and African and Brazilian Black Film. Michelle Sales will present her research on postcolonial cinema. Raquel Schefer, programmer of the event, will approach the L.A. Rebellion movement.