Lucianne Walkowicz: So the overview of this par­tic­u­lar pan­el, if you’ll notice in the pro­gram is called Alternative Futurisms.” And this, as should prob­a­bly be evi­dent by now is cen­tered on sci­ence fic­tion and the imag­i­na­tion. It real­ly has a pow­er to inspire and instruct us as we envi­sion the future, but it’s also long been a vehi­cle for myths of Manifest Destiny. And so, we want­ed to start today by talk­ing about the view­points of human­i­ty’s future that are alter­na­tive to some of these main­stream nar­ra­tives, and how we might con­cep­tu­al­ize life off-world in rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ways. And so I’m going to start by throw­ing this out to the entire pan­el, prob­a­bly the cen­tral con­cern that came up in our pre-event call, which is…alternative to what? So, if we could take a moment to talk about dis­tinc­tions between kinds of sci­ence fic­tion and how they inter­face with your work. To who­ev­er wants to take it first.

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem: Hi every­one. So hap­py to be here. So, one of the things that comes up for me in response to that ques­tion is I think about bell books, cen­ter­ing the mar­gins. I also think about some prob­lems as I con­tin­ue to teach her texts, and that par­tic­u­lar one. The prob­lems that I’m begin­ning to have around the—even the term mar­gin.” And so that’s some­thing where I think about what does it mean to be cen­tered, or to cen­ter one­self? And what does it mean to claim the mar­gin, or to reject that ter­mi­nol­o­gy? And so for myself, I real­ly approach Afrofuturism and the teach­ing of it as a kind of shapeshifter’s art. And I think that that is also some­thing that draws peo­ple, and stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar, to my class­es and to that par­tic­u­lar approach, where it offers a kind of inclu­siv­i­ty and space for peo­ple who are com­ing from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds and ways of being and see­ing them­selves in iden­ti­ty to enter into that and see it as a kind of rad­i­cal space for cre­ative production.

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo: Thank you. I think there are a few kind of cul­tur­al myths that Afrofuturism and some of the relat­ed works are try­ing to reject. And specif­i­cal­ly in regards to sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, I think one of the most promi­nent ones is that you know, black folks are like, amod­ern, out­side of moder­ni­ty. That they exist in some sort of prim­i­tive or above or beyond or like, extrap­o­lat­ed away from tech­nol­o­gy and science. 

And then the oth­er thing that I’ve encoun­tered a lot in regards to my work is this idea of being an anom­aly. I found that when I per­form, a lot of white folks will approach me as though I’m an anom­aly. And a big part of what I want to do is say—is express that this is a per­spec­tive that a lot of black folks have, right. That I’m not a uni­corn. And so I think Afrofuturism has helped me to fig­ure out how to kind of work through that, but that’s one of the myths, I think. That there can only be one or that there’s…we rep­re­sent one par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive or one group, when that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly the case.

William Lempert: Yeah, absolute­ly think­ing what you said about bell books, I’ve been think­ing a lot about this book by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Moving the Center. And sim­i­lar to what’s come up a lot today about who’s in the cen­ter, in a vari­ety of ways, and who’s not in the center—who’s at the mar­gin, but also who’s just not there at all? Who’s absent? And that’s hard­er to see because it’s not present and requires a crit­i­cal eye. 

Another quote that comes to mind, that was writ­ten by Peter Gourevitch, about the Rwandan geno­cide that I come back to a lot around this ques­tion is that, Power large­ly con­sists in the abil­i­ty to make oth­ers inhab­it your sto­ry of their real­i­ty.” I think that’s pow­er­ful, and espe­cial­ly this pan­el, I think there’s this con­nec­tion between cre­ative work and schol­ar­ship. And there’s some­thing that hap­pens in that space that does­n’t hap­pen in peer-reviewed jour­nal arti­cles alone. And that imag­in­ing the future’s very much about the image, or some sort of engage­ment that’s not-one way and through these very old colo­nial struc­tures, and that is essen­tial. Yeah.

Ytasha L. Womack: Hi, this is so excit­ing. I guess when I think about… Whenever I talk about Afrofuturism, I like to give sort of a ground-floor ref­er­ence def­i­n­i­tion for it. One of the def­i­n­i­tions I often use is to say that it’s a way of look­ing at the future, or alter­nate real­i­ties, but through a black cul­tur­al lens. And then I have to define black,” you know, and say that that’s you know, peo­ple of the African con­ti­nent and peo­ple of the African Diaspora. And then I also say that it inter­sects the imag­i­na­tion, tech­nol­o­gy, mys­ti­cism. I high­light mys­ti­cism, because that sep­a­rates it from the way we usu­al­ly talk about sci­ence fic­tion. And that it obvi­ous­ly inter­sects black cul­ture. But that there is a lot of appre­ci­a­tion for the con­cept of the divine fem­i­nine, a lot of women cre­ators, but also this idea of valu­ing intu­ition or the emo­tions as being a val­ued space for information—intuition is a val­ued space for infor­ma­tion in the same way that log­ic is, and look­ing at that as a bal­ance. So, if you take some­thing like the ankh, and you think about mas­culin­i­ty and fem­i­nin­i­ty in sort of these larger…not in a bina­ry space per se but just sort of this con­cept that there are ideas we both con­nect with and that express, you know, very much these dif­fer­ent ways that we can process infor­ma­tion and come to under­stand ourselves. 

And then this rela­tion­ship with time, you know, with the future and the past and the present being var­i­ous expres­sions of want, and these are all con­cepts you see com­ing out of Afrofuturism which also over­lap in a lot of ways with Indigenous Futurism. But, what is inter­est­ing about Afrofuturism which is dif­fer­ent from how we kind of talk about just sci-fi, and this is why the whole alter­na­tive futurisms gets real­ly inter­est­ing, Afrofuturism at least acknowl­edges that it’s a per­spec­tive, alright? And so, when we start talk­ing about this idea of oh, sci­ence fic­tion,” and then there’s this gen­er­al assump­tion that this is the way, right? And that there’s one approach to it, and a lot of times it’s very nation­al­is­tic or mil­i­taris­tic. And you know, it might explore var­i­ous things. 

So I mean, I’ve been on sci­ence fic­tion pan­els and I just had to say, Look, I don’t speak from a mar­gin­al­ized space. I don’t know what that is, that’s not my back­ground, that’s not my per­spec­tive,” and there was a gasp. Like, Oh, my good­ness. But that’s what you’re here to inform us of,” and it’s like oh gee, sor­ry. You know, because I don’t relate to that con­cept, right? And so gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the point I’m talk­ing about, these per­spec­tives, is to inte­grate and share and look at how we can inte­grate them…how we can over­lap them, and how we can pull the best to cre­ate this sort of soci­eties and the world that makes the most sense for us.

Akpem: I want­ed to kind of respond and just, you know, affirm what you said in terms of to throw in this idea of the black abject, and the need that peo­ple have, or the larg­er soci­eties seems to have, for depic­tions of black abjec­tion. And so that you know, this idea that no, I’m not speak­ing from a mar­gin. And I’m speak­ing from a point of joy, of rad­i­cal joy, which is some­thing that Wanuri Kahiu, a film­mak­er who did Pumzi, the film and many oth­ers. And Rafiki which is now showing—in Kenya; it was banned and now it’s cur­rent­ly show­ing, which is awesome. 

But, you know, think­ing about depic­tions and how we are… You know, there’s a sort of con­sump­tion of the black abject. And so, Afrofuturism as a genre is the space where we can very direct­ly go up against that in a sense. At the same time, I also reject the idea—and this is con­nect­ed with you know, in terms of definitions—that Afrofuturism is a response to white­ness, in the same way that Black Arts Movement authors and prac­ti­tion­ers were say­ing you know, basi­cal­ly Malcolm was assas­si­nat­ed and Baraka moved up North to Harlem and said you know, F this,” basi­cal­ly. We are going to address our­selves to black peo­ple, for black peo­ple, about black peo­ple. We are not going to be respond­ing to white­ness. And so it was art as action. And so I real­ly root my approach to Afrofuturism very much in the Black Arts Movement in that time peri­od. I taught about that for a long time, so I feel very con­nect­ed with a num­ber of the prac­ti­tion­ers who are still work­ing today. 

And one of the things I want­ed to say, too, about the term Afrofuturism” is there’s also—and I guess this is a lit­tle more detailed in terms of the specifics of this, the genre, but—there are some­times argu­ments about well, what should it be called? And the more Afrofuturism gets to be this phe­nom­e­na, you know, as the years go by, some folks will say, Well, I don’t want to— Afrofuturism, that term was invent­ed by a white man. I don’t want this to be some­thing that I’m using to define this rad­i­cal prac­tice.” Which I under­stand, and I think that’s why I go back to shapeshift­ing. Afrofuturism, black sci-fi, black spec­u­la­tive sci­ence. You know, all of these ter­mi­nolo­gies have space and I think they’re all connected. 

One of the rea­sons I hold to that term, at least for the moment (giv­ing myself space to shapeshift out of that if I should so desire), is there’s an arti­cle by Mark Rockeymoore called What is Afrofuturism? that real­ly has moved me over the years. And he talks about the afro. So for me it’s kind of two parts. One is the form of the afro. It can’t be con­tained. It can’t be con­strained. Spirals, mov­ing this way and that, you know, of their own voli­tion. And so his beau­ti­ful, poet­ic descrip­tion of the afro for me is what roots the practice. 

And then also, think­ing about Malcolm, and root­ed in the Black Arts Movement as well. And that par­tic­u­lar moment in time where there was a con­stant speak­ing to the Afro-American. And so some­thing about using the term afro” for me also roots it in that moment. 

And so, I really—for myself I think about Afrofuturism as an action. It’s a prac­tice. I describe it as a method­ol­o­gy of black lib­er­a­tion. So it’s def­i­nite­ly a space where peo­ple can express and be cre­ative, and all of that is part of it. For me, I’m very invest­ed in it, not nec­es­sar­i­ly to say polit­i­cal, but just an action, a state­ment, a methodology.

Lumumba-Kasongo: And I think leap­ing on that just quick­ly, in the anthol­o­gy Octavia’s Brood, a dis­tinc­tion is made in the intro­duc­tion between sort of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion and vision­ary fic­tion, and this idea that this is explic­it­ly root­ed in sort of social jus­tice ideas and that there’s no shy­ing away from that, and sort of what you were express­ing around the recog­ni­tion of a per­spec­tive. Like acknowl­edg­ing that is a big part of the work. Not say­ing that they occu­py the view from nowhere. That there’s an objec­tive per­spec­tive there, right, instead. That’s a full part of kind of vision­ary fic­tions. So I think again, kind of this dis­tinc­tion that you were talk­ing about around kind of the action of it. That there’s a social jus­tice frame­work for a lot of the work that falls in that category.

Walkowicz: Willi, I won­der if you could speak to this from the stand­point of Indigenous Futurism and how it func­tions for you in the com­mu­ni­ties that you work with.

Lempert: Yeah. I mean, it oper­ates in a very prac­ti­cal way for peo­ple, because in Australia for exam­ple there is—there are no treaties… Sort of as much as treaties have been bro­ken in North America. There are no treaties. Terra nul­lius estab­lished that there were no peo­ple there. And so it was con­sid­ered moral. 

And so the way that cit­i­zens imag­ine indige­nous futures in Australia has a huge impact on whether com­mu­ni­ties will be fund­ed. There was a recent effort to close half of all abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties in Australia. And it would’ve hap­pened except there was a pub­lic out­cry. So a lot hangs on sort of broad­er coali­tions of peo­ple imag­in­ing that there’s a future for people. 

But it’s very stark. Funding was cut by 40% recent­ly, and there’s this larg­er way, I think espe­cial­ly in indige­nous futurisms around tem­po­ral­i­ty in which the past becomes a place for…in which indige­nous peo­ple are slot­ted into the myth­ic, at best, and then it gets worse from there. Then the present is about suf­fer­ing and prob­lems. And the future is absent. And so there’s this way in which—there’s this great book Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. He talks about how the past is a bun­dle of silences more than it is any­thing else. And the future is also silenced. That the future most­ly has to do with things that have been edit­ed out. But we focus on the things that are there, because that makes sense to do. Especially for indige­nous peo­ple. Western civ­i­liza­tion is depen­dent on them not exist­ing and always has been in set­tler col­o­niza­tion. And so, I think tem­po­ral­i­ty becomes espe­cial­ly impor­tant in that case, yeah.

Walkowicz: You know, one of the things that came up in our pre-event call was the poten­tial­i­ty of these frame­works for trans­for­ma­tion. And I think that’s some­thing, even though you each work— Well, you each work in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent media…and dif­fer­ent from each oth­er and…wide in scope in each one of your work. And I won­der if you could speak a lit­tle to the way that trans­for­ma­tion is real­ized dur­ing or at least imple­ment­ed in your work. So I know, Ytasha, you had done a dance ther­a­py work­shop this sum­mer, is that correct?

Womack: Right.

Walkowicz: Yeah.

Womack: Yes. Very event­ful pro­gram. I worked with teenage girls, which is always great. And the pro­gram was real­ly based on this con­cept of using dance as a way to con­nect peo­ple with ideas about the future. And to con­nect them with more of a his­tor­i­cal ground­ing around iden­ti­ty in cul­ture and so forth. But more impor­tant­ly just to kind touch on all aspect of ourselves. 

So the course, it includ­ed breath­ing exer­cis­es, med­i­ta­tion, but then they also learned a lit­tle about dif­fer­ent dances of…from dif­fer­ent parts of the African con­ti­nent and Diaspora. So they learned West African tra­di­tion­al dance. They’re learn­ing Chicago-style step­ping. They’re learn­ing sam­ba, sal­sa, and see­ing a rela­tion­ship between the music and the rhythm patterns. 

But then also there would be some essay writ­ing. They would jour­nal. Talk about them­selves. We would do group exer­cis­es where they would pick a celes­tial phe­nom­e­non and then do like a freestyle dance move­ment think­ing about Andromeda or a par­tic­u­lar star. 

And what it did over time was they start­ed to see a rela­tion­ship between them­selves and the Earth, and then the larg­er uni­verse. And would you know, start to speak in that way and they saw the val­ue of art and going to muse­ums and think­ing about dance and move­ment as being art forms that had been pre­served in some respect for sev­er­al thou­sand years. Looking at a dance like sam­ba and look­ing at how old it real­ly is. So some of the rhythms from…some of the music from the West African dances they were learn­ing and see­ing that you know, in dif­fer­ent spaces, there was some­times a…very dif­fer­ent sym­bol­ism with that. 

Then you say, Well, what does that have to do with the future?” Well, they saw a rela­tion­ship between them­selves, peo­ple in the past, and peo­ple in the future. And that the dances that they were doing were con­nect­ed to peo­ple who were doing those dances before. And that the ideas and the actions they were tak­ing now were going to shape things for peo­ple in the future. And it also helped them to feel like they had more agency, in part because of the phys­i­cal activ­i­ty. They’re push­ing through, you know, body lim­i­ta­tions to do things they weren’t nor­mal­ly used to doing. And that made them think more about their own futures. 

And so, it was, you know very holis­tic in that sense. But of course, you can imag­ine cer­tain things come up as well that kind of had to be addressed. And so it was a very trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence, but for me as a per­son who’s a writer and a dancer grow­ing up, most peo­ple would think there was­n’t much of a relationship. 

But the nat­ur­al evo­lu­tion of that is to see this larg­er con­nec­tiv­i­ty. So I did do a film called A Love Letter to the Ancestors from Chicago, which also dealt with dance as a…kind of like the body as a…the body as a por­tal of sorts between the future, the past and the present. Specifically around kind of house music because I’m from Chicago and I’m excit­ed about that. But look­ing at freestyle dance as being part of this sort of inter­con­nect­ed way of remind­ing our­selves that we have a rela­tion­ship with one anoth­er, with the uni­verse, and with the Earth.

Walkowicz: Yeah, I don’t know if you all are famil­iar with the Dance Your PhD…contest. I guess it’s a con­test? So this was some­thing that start­ed a num­ber of years ago that I think…well, for lack of a less pun­ny word, embod­ies a lot of the ways that peo­ple from sci­en­tif­ic dis­ci­plines think about the dia­logue between the arts and sciences—that it will be an inter­pre­tive rela­tion­ship. And I think one of the things that’s real­ly miss­ing from the way folks from the sci­ence side see the arts is that they don’t real­ize that there’s this pos­si­ble rela­tion­ship that can form just through move­ment, through physicality. 

I wonder…and who­ev­er wants to take it first, if you can speak a lit­tle bit about some of the projects that you’ve worked on and their rela­tion­ships to these sort of trans­for­ma­tive potentialities.

Lumumba-Kasongo: I think touch­ing on what Ytasha was talk­ing about, actu­al­ly my PhD work has helped me in some regards in think­ing about trans­for­ma­tive poten­tials of spaces and myself and my com­mu­ni­ty in the sense that one of the areas of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy stud­ies is kind of his­to­ry of tech­nol­o­gy, and broad­en­ing our def­i­n­i­tions of tech­nol­o­gy. Broadening them to think less about kind of dis­crete, spe­cif­ic objects that often kind of thrive or are tied in deeply to like mas­culin­i­ty or par­tic­u­lar con­structs of pow­er, and instead think­ing more about you know, mun­dane tech­nolo­gies” or even—not even tech­nolo­gies as objects but as ways of doing things. And so open­ing up this idea that tech­nol­o­gy could be some­thing more and that it’s part of a…it only has mean­ing inso­far as the peo­ple around it give it that mean­ing, it— I think as Ytasha was say­ing, it gave—it felt like I had agency, right. That the things that we do in our actions were not just sort of dropped from the sky. There’s a con­text. There’s a broad­er his­to­ry. There’s a rela­tion­ship with oth­er things that’ve hap­pened before. And I think pow­er func­tions by cut­ting peo­ple off from their past, right. By not allow­ing peo­ple to feel like there’s a con­nec­tion and that the things that you do actu­al­ly mat­ter. And I think once I start­ed to rec­og­nize that, that’s when I dug into my music, and explic­it­ly talk­ing about hard­ships that I had had but not in the sort of like, grand…you know, black suf­fer­ing nar­ra­tive but instead this is a thing that I’ve dealt with per­son­al­ly in my life and let me share my tes­ti­mo­ny with you. And in doing that, you know, peo­ple have come up to me after shows and said you know, I start­ed going to ther­a­py because you start­ed talk­ing about the impor­tance of that in your life.” Or, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with my advis­er that I had been putting off for for­ev­er because you were talk­ing about that break­down.” And so I think I start­ed to real­ized what I do mat­ters, the music that I make mat­ters, and the words that I put down should be well-intentioned, because it reverberates.

Walkowicz: If I could ask just a quick follow-up to that. How often do you engage with your stu­dents? So for exam­ple, you just taught the sci­ence and fem­i­nism course at NYU. How often do you engage with your stu­dents also through like, a musi­cal lens? Is that all woven in togeth­er for you or is that sort of dif­fer­ent parts of your life that you sep­a­rate, or?

Lumumba-Kasongo: So I’ve kind of sep­a­rat­ed them for my san­i­ty. Got my aca­d­e­m­ic self over here, and then my musi­cal self, but of course they sort of bleed. And it was real­ly cool because one of my stu­dents at the begin­ning of the class was like, Maybe this sounds awk­ward, but are you a rap­per?” And I guess he had done some research. And so it was cool, we got a chance to have a con­ver­sa­tion. We start­ed tak­ing about head­phones and oth­er stuff. It sort of opened up this dia­logue. But I still haven’t fig­ured out how to weave it all togeth­er but I would like to, because I think that they are…they do speak to each other.

Akpem: I love that ques­tion. Because…just think­ing about that as well. It’s some­thing that I’ve been think­ing how… What are the ways that I incor­po­rate my per­for­ma­tive nature into my teach­ing prac­tice? Kind of a fun­ny sto­ry, there’s a shaman, mul­ti­ple PhD having…his name is Malidoma Patrice Somé. Some of you may know him. He’s a Dagara from Burkina Faso. And I’ve been study­ing his work, fol­low­ing what he does, for many years and I had a chance to do div­ina­tion with him last year, which was deeply transformative. 

And one of the sto­ries in his book Of Water and the Spirit, he talks about his grand­fa­ther with whom he was very close, and how Grandfather would hyp­no­tize small chil­dren. If you ever saw a small child walk­ing around the vil­lage just word­less­ly doing a task you know, han­dling a task, you knew that they had been hyp­no­tized by Grandfather. And so I think about that in the con­text of my teach­ing. You know, one of the ways that I can sort of hyp­no­tize and, you know— And use the voice. You know, I’m trained as a jazz singer, and trained… My voice is my moth­er’s voice so I use it very much in terms of self-soothing. My sis­ter is a speech pathol­o­gist, you know. She talked with me about my per­for­mance that I’ll be doing lat­er. So I’m real­ly, real­ly inter­est­ed in the use of voice, word force, think­ing about Yoruba oríkì. The pow­er of draw­ing forth a per­son­’s essen­tial nature through the use of voice. And so that’s some­thing that I think about a lot. And I do engage in rit­u­al with stu­dents and that sort of thing. 

I also want­ed to kind of speak to…Willi, what you were talk­ing about in terms of Ngũgĩ, who actu­al­ly was—I took a class with him as an under­grad at Smith. He was recent­ly out of prison and in exile. And he talks about the cul­tur­al bomb” in Decolonizing the Mind. And that has been deeply mean­ing­ful to me in terms of this idea of how it destroys a peo­ple’s belief in terms of the colo­nial project, in their own cul­ture, in their own— And so think­ing about that belief in one’s per­for­mance, the belief in one’s…what one has to share. 

And one of the inter­est­ing things is that years ago—and I won’t say the exact year, but when I was at Smith, I was cho­sen for the Smithsonian Internship where they sent twelve stu­dents per year to dif­fer­ent muse­ums at the Smithsonian. And I was sta­tioned at the National Museum of African Art to work on King Agyeman Prempeh’s cloth and exhi­bi­tion. At the time, doing an inter­ac­tive exhib­it, hav­ing a play writ­ten about Agyeman Prempeh’s life, hav­ing Prempeh’s fam­i­ly come from Ghana doing liba­tions and a pro­ces­sion. This was rad­i­cal for the Smithsonian, you know. All kinds of per­mis­sions to have liba­tions and pro­ces­sions and all of that. May still be, you know. 

But to come back here now…you know, and I will say almost twen­ty years after that, it real­ly makes me think about this idea of engaged prac­tice. And one of the things that I was writ­ing about and inter­view­ing and work­ing with the muse­um was, how do you exhib­it African art in the Western muse­um con­text? And I had—many of my teach­ers were doing per­for­mances with works of art, mov­ing through the muse­um, danc­ing to the exhi­bi­tions and all of that. And so that was real­ly the foun­da­tion you know—Andrea Hairston, Tony Vaca [sp?], and so many others—for my under­stand­ing of what it means to acti­vate not only a space… And so I think of myself a space sculp­tor. But to acti­vate not just the phys­i­cal space but the space of your body. Thinking of our bod­ies as ves­sels of lib­er­a­tion as much as the music as a ves­sel, the moth­er­ship as a ves­sel. And so, what are the ways that we use voice or we use oth­er method­olo­gies to acti­vate that indi­vid­ual, and in response to works of art or otherwise.

So that, I think, you know, for me the idea of immer­sion, inter­ac­tion, per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty, the rit­u­al prac­tice with­in the space of Afrofuturism. You know, for me, it’s all…in my work it ends up being real­ly a col­lage. And at the same time when I was at Smith, I remem­ber hav­ing a tarot read­ing. And I remem­ber the woman who read my cards said, The thing that you’re going to end up doing does­n’t exist. You’re going to cre­ate it.” And so now you know…that many years lat­er, you know, I real— And it can be very scary. Because this per­for­mance style, this col­lage style, this thing…this Afrofuturism thing, a lot of it has­n’t exist­ed till what I’ve put out there. Or that par­tic­u­lar style. And so you know, it’s a sort of con­tin­u­al evo­lu­tion into being, into the being that I already am, I guess. Yeah.

Walkowicz: Willi, I won­der if you could speak to your process. So you refer to your­self and what you do as col­lab­o­ra­tive film­mak­ing with indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. So, can you tell us a lit­tle bit about how that process works, and for you, for them…for everyone.

Lempert: Yeah. Collaboration is a word that’s thrown around a lot now. And it can mean a lot of things. Some…you know, very admirable, some not. So I’ve tried to think about col­lab­o­ra­tion for a long time, and what that real­ly means. So for me, it involves try­ing to from the very begin­ning and through the very end, through the writ­ing process as well, start off with not the ques­tion of can I do this” or any­thing like that, but would you like to do some­thing togeth­er?” And at a sort of larg­er meta lev­el try­ing to cre­ate a dynam­ic in which, to the extent it’s pos­si­ble, instead of study­ing a peo­ple or…that sort of his­to­ry of anthro­pol­o­gy, of doing projects with peo­ple. Working on some­thing and look­ing the same direc­tion together. 

And so, going, ask­ing if you’d like to work on a project. And if so, what would— Then the sec­ond step for me at least is what would be the sin­gle most use­ful thing for me to do in this con­text? And then…and still leave out the research com­plete­ly at that point. Then go home, think about it, and then build a project from that foun­da­tion, so that the Venn dia­gram of what your project is and what would be, on a dai­ly lev­el, pro­duc­tive in their point of view are not in con­flict to the extent pos­si­ble. And then, build the project from there. So for me it meant fol­low­ing the social life with film projects. So, what­ev­er was hap­pen­ing was the project. I would just get in the Land Cruiser and off we were. 

And, col­lab­o­ra­tion is often dis­cussed as a sort of eth­i­cal issue. And ethics is a very sort of Western men­tal­i­ty, too. Because of course for indige­nous schol­ars, it’s oblig­a­tion. So ethics presents it as a sort of option that you should feel good about. But beyond that as well, I think it has pro­found impli­ca­tions as to what you find. Because I was inter­est­ed in futurisms and spec­u­la­tive think­ing from fol­low­ing native sci­ence fic­tion from many years, and those films. But what I also found is that when you approach a project a cer­tain way, dif­fer­ent types of things come out. Whereas gen­er­al­ly there’s an assump­tion that anthro­pol­o­gists or white peo­ple in gen­er­al are always just try­ing to learn more Dreaming sto­ries, songlines. 

But when things open up to more options, peo­ple are very inter­est­ed in telling oth­er sto­ries. And what I found is peo­ple often want to talk about the future, which is some­thing I think that they feel is per­haps silenced, espe­cial­ly in Australia where peo­ple are sort of sym­bol­i­cal­ly under­stood to be the old­est liv­ing soci­eties, set of soci­eties. And that is tak­en as being sort of a win­dow into a past, and there’s a long his­to­ry of that. So, I think engag­ing the future’s also lot about process and under­stand­ing the his­to­ry of how things have often worked in the research process.

Walkowicz: Do you think that there’s— And I think… Oh, actu­al­ly before I ask this ques­tion, Denenge I won­dered if you could talk a lit­tle bit to the Mars project, just build­ing off of the sort of emerg­ing theme of edu­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion. You had done this project with your stu­dents to envi­sion com­pet­ing to go, or to envi­sion being a per­son cho­sen to go Mars. And also, you have a new course in the fall this year that I think we’d be inter­est­ed to hear about as well.

Akpem: So, this was— Thank you for that ques­tion. This was for Afrofuturism— I start­ed teach­ing Afrofuturism at Columbia College Chicago in 2010. I knew there were oth­er cours­es here and there about it. Many of them I believe tend­ed to be focus per­haps on music in par­tic­u­lar or spe­cif­ic area— This was I think one of the first cours­es that was look­ing real­ly cross-disciplinarily at the sub­ject. I had stu­dents in the class, thir­teen dif­fer­ent coun­tries rep­re­sent­ed, four­teen dif­fer­ent majors across the col­lege. So, it was real­ly a diverse—as far as class­es you know, go, it was a pret­ty diverse group. 

And this was—there was the announce­ment of Mars One plan­ning to set­tle by 2023. So we were ten years out and I thought, Okay, we got­ta do some­thing with this.” And one of the big points with Mars One, as many of you prob­a­bly know, is that they were doing it sort of real­i­ty TV-style so you could you know, upload peo­ple from all over the world. And you could track the demographics—which I did, because I want­ed to see you know, how many Nigerians— I’m very—you know, being from Nigeria I’m inter­est­ed how many Nigerians had actu­al­ly sub­mit­ted an appli­ca­tion to go. But you know, real­ly inter­est­ed in kind of the data around that as well. Who is sub­mit­ting, and why, and what? 

So any­way, we have all these— [acci­den­tal­ly rubs some of her make­up] (Oh good­ness. Costuming.) ‑all of these indi­vid­u­als from around the world who are—I think it was in the hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who had sub­mit­ted. So, I thought let’s do some­thing sim­i­lar. We did­n’t use the appli­ca­tion online, but I want­ed stu­dents to have the expe­ri­ence of apply­ing. I did a poll. I think there were twenty-seven stu­dents in the class? And out of that num­ber, only two said they would actu­al­ly go. So, this was­n’t based on the actu­al desire to trav­el to Mars just sort of hypotheticals. 

And so I cre­at­ed an appli­ca­tion. And every class ses­sion was basi­cal­ly com­plet­ing anoth­er step in that appli­ca­tion. Part of that was dis­cussing your strengths and kind of— And it would be every­thing. Strengths, what do you have to offer? So one per­son in the class…young man who’s very tall. So he said, Well, my height, you know. I can reach things. So if I’m climb­ing out of a Mars…you know, a cav­ern I’d be use­ful.” And then some­one else said, I’m real­ly real­ly short. I can fit into small spaces. So, if there’s tech­no­log­i­cal things, things that need to be fixed, I can get in there.” 

So, they were real­ly think­ing real­ly prac­ti­cal­ly. Someone else— I’m just kind of men­tion­ing some of the fun ones here. Someone said you know, hacky sack. You know, I’m real­ly good at that. It pro­motes com­mu­ni­ty, friend­ship, and it’s real­ly good for exer­cise and keep­ing the body lim­ber when you’re,” you know. So there were…they were real­ly get­ting into it. 

But real­ly, we read a lot. Of course, always in my class­es, read­ing a lot from a wide range of authors and think­ing about what some of the prob­lems might be. And then they created…as part of the appli­ca­tion pack­age, they devel­oped a work of art that would be includ­ed to be sent off to the committee. 

And so everything…I’ll be shar­ing in the per­for­mance lat­er. Kelsey came up. She’s a vocal com­po­si­tion major so she cre­at­ed a Mars anthem, com­plete with a salute, and we all sang and she brought in a drum­mer. We had some­one who was a com­bi­na­tion of graph­ic design and also…health food? I’m not sure exact­ly what her major was. So she researched what astro­nauts eat, what some of the ini­tia­tives were for Mars, grow­ing plants and that sort of thing. So they real­ly just went into all their dif­fer­ent areas. Someone else is real­ly about design and recy­cling and she said you know, rather than F up Mars just the way we have Earth, let’s set up the sys­tem from the get-go so that it’s already con­nect­ed direct­ly to your pod, and when you need some­thing it comes through and then when you need to you send it out and there’s a central— 

So they all had these amaz­ing designs and ideas, and it was just incred­i­ble. So that was excit­ing and then…yeah. And then this fall, I’m teach­ing a course on Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which is a prophet­ic text for this moment in time espe­cial­ly, down to the whole Make America Great Again.” Yeah. So basi­cal­ly it’s a seminar/studio. We’re doing urban for­ag­ing with Nance Klehm, who’s very well-known espe­cial­ly in Chicago. We are meet­ing with Jessica Charlesworth who teach­es in designed objects to do sur­vival packs. So we’re look­ing also at dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios and think­ing about what are the ways that we want to devel­op these packs based on cur­rent sit­u­a­tions and what we envi­sion to be our ideas of what might be need­ed. So it’s just a—it’s an excit­ing class and it’s a way to real­ly kind of get in to para­ble and think about future, past, present, all in this moment right now.

Walkowicz: Thank you. Ytasha, I want­ed to ask you since you…you may not have coined Afrofuturism but you lit­er­al­ly wrote the book. And I won­der— You touched on this a lit­tle bit at the begin­ning of the pan­el, but I won­der if you can you talk about the way in which that as a label func­tions for you both as some­thing that can be pro­duc­tive, but do you ever find that it’s lim­it­ing, or does­n’t allow you access to the spaces that you would like to have?

Womack: No, I don’t find it to be lim­it­ing at all. As a mat­ter of fact, it’s been very lib­er­at­ing in a lot of ways. And there’s some­thing about nam­ing pow­er that I think real­ly opens the door to help­ing peo­ple to rec­og­nize that what they are doing exists, or to real­ly syn­er­gize ideas. Denenge— I think in a con­ver­sa­tion with Denenge, and I put this in the book, it was through a con­ver­sa­tion with her that I remem­ber first hear­ing the term Afrofuturism.”

Now, in ret­ro­spect I had heard it before but I…it did­n’t click then. And hear­ing the term, you know, I went and researched and talked to var­i­ous peo­ple. And what I real­ized was I’ve been hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and engag­ing in Afrofuturism my entire life. It real­ly syn­er­gized for me when I was at Clark Atlanta University in the Atlanta University Center, because every­one was cre­at­ing this Afrofuturist art and work and con­tem­plat­ing the future, and real­ly work­ing with the con­cepts. We were even read­ing some of the essays, but again the term just did not real­ly click. 

And so when I had that con­ver­sa­tion and Denenge brought up the term, and then retroac­tive­ly start­ing to look at how there were all these rela­tion­ships in music, and sci­ence, and the art that you’d see with­in a cul­ture and then in my own life, it real­ly pushed my sto­ry­telling abil­i­ties fur­ther in that I was pri­mar­i­ly doing a lot of non-fiction. And you know, work­ing as a jour­nal­ist. And then some of the fic­tion I did was very…of the time. And I felt like that was lim­it­ing. Something about these nar­ra­tives of talk­ing about love found, love lost, and the present, just did­n’t real­ly make a lot of sense to me? 

And when I start­ed think­ing about Afrofuturism, I felt very com­pelled to tell a story—the first one is the Rayla 2212 sto­ry about a woman who lived on a dis­tant plan­et. She’s third-generation deep on this plan­et and has to kind of recon­nect with Earth and find these miss­ing astro­nauts who got stuck in space an time try­ing to trav­el with their minds. And for me, it real­ly became a decon­struc­tion around a lot of assump­tions about iden­ti­ty. Because there’s the ques­tion of are you… You know, what per­spec­tive am I writ­ing about her from? You know. I can’t say that she’s… You know, in my per­spec­tive of being African American or being a black woman, I can’t entire­ly project that onto her because those iden­ti­ties shift when you’re on anoth­er plan­et, in anoth­er solar sys­tem. Or anoth­er galaxy, you know. What does it mean to be a woman in anoth­er galaxy, you know? What does it mean to… Is she think­ing in the default terms of being American in the way that I would. Probably not. But how do you rec­og­nize some of these con­cepts and how they might shape her perspective? 

And then that became real­ly inter­est­ing, but then that goes into the whole time trav­el dynam­ic of see­ing rela­tion­ships between the future, the past, the present. You know, these names, names of schools, names of months of the year and so forth. So for me, Afrofuturism real­ly opened me up to doing a lot of writ­ing and sto­ry­telling that I could’ve deemed as being very non-traditional and kind of stopped myself. And I think that’s one of the beau­ties of the term itself, is that it helps peo­ple to feel com­fort­able cre­at­ing sto­ries and cre­at­ing works that they did­n’t feel were val­i­dat­ed in very spe­cif­ic spaces. And that helps to real­ly free the imag­i­na­tion, or in some cas­es decol­o­nize the mind. And that’s when you can start talk­ing about futures. And peo­ple feel com­fort­able look­ing at their own lives and their own ideas and say­ing, Hey, you know I think that these are ways that we could real­ly build together.”

Walkowicz: And Enongo, maybe you can add to this as well, because I know that this has been some­thing that you’ve active­ly adapt­ed as a lens for your music career after being kind of lumped in with the nerd­core thing

Lumumba-Kasongo: Yeah. So, I ref­er­ence video games and car­toons a lot because that’s the stuff that I love; that’s what I grew up with and that shaped my world­view. And so I found that as an MC who does that quite a bit, my work start­ed to be attached to this sub­genre called nerd­core, which is basi­cal­ly a lot of white guys who can’t rap. And they…you know, they’ll kind of have their ref­er­ences to Star Wars and what­ev­er else. But I was, I think, very offend­ed by the fact that I did­n’t get to shape that nar­ra­tive. That I saw this term that start­ed to be asso­ci­at­ed with me that I did­n’t even know where it came from. But I would see nerd­core rap­per Sammus,” nerd­core artist—” 

And so I think at first I tried to wres­tle with it and say okay, maybe I can adopt it. Maybe— [record­ing skips] —black per­spec­tive that I’m try­ing to assert through my work. It’s not just that I love video games, and it’s not just that I’m a black girl who loves videos games. I have a par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive, and I think that Afrofuturism as a term for think­ing about like, repur­pos­ing was a real­ly inter­est­ing way for me to engage with the idea of repur­pos­ing this char­ac­ter. This char­ac­ter who’s a white blonde lady, and putting my face in that cyber­net­ic pow­er suit. And all of the work that that end­ed up doing. I mean, I’ve have had so many folks who have come up to me and said, You know, I did­n’t know who Mae Jemison was but I did know what Metroid was. And so I lis­tened to your album and now I’m fol­low­ing her and now I think she’s amazing.” 

And vice ver­sa. You know, folks who are inter­est­ed in black fem­i­nist thought or who are inter­est­ed in engag­ing with the acad­e­my, who don’t care about video games or car­toons but they’re— My favorite sto­ry from this is a woman in Ithaca. And she start­ed play­ing the video game Metroid with her daugh­ter after her daugh­ter start­ed ask­ing, Who’s Sammus? Like I see this rap­per and she looks like me and I want to know more about this video game.” So now they’ve start­ed to play with the kind real­i­ties of that universe. 

So I think that the term, as Ytasha was say­ing… I find that it’s not restric­tive in the ways that that nerd­core was to me, because built in to the under­stand­ing of it is this idea around repur­pos­ing or shapeshift­ing, or a kind of move­ment. That it’s not sort of a sta­t­ic thing and that flu­id­i­ty is a part of kind of essen­tial­ly work­ing with­in Afrofuturist frame­works. So it allowed me to reject this whole oth­er part of music that I did not feel like I was making.

Walkowicz: You know, I want to return to some­thing that I think has arisen in dif­fer­ent ways in each of the pan­els today, which is the rela­tion­ship to time. And I believe you brought it up at the begin­ning of this pan­el. That out­side of…you know, to—let’s remove the posi­tion from nowhere and call it white Western futur­ism. It seems like in Indigenous and Afro Futurism, there is a much more non­lin­ear rela­tion­ship to time and much more of a rela­tion­ship to both deep time and his­to­ry, and into the future. And I won­der if you can speak to that in the light of how we talk about well, now is the moment that we must go to space. Now is the moment that humans must live off-world. How do you think those two ideas inter­act with each other?

Womack: Well, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing because you can be in…you can be very present, and still be con­nect­ed to what we call a future or a past. And it’s being so present that you can real­ly feel how they’re all inter­weaved, or inter­wo­ven rather, into a way to real­ly express and be. And to see that these actions of now can impact the future and the past. And I think that’s where it gets real­ly interesting. 

So, when we usu­al­ly talk about the future, it’s this lin­ear like, now is the time to move for­ward,” right? But any action that you take now, at least in this way we talk about time, it can impact the so-called future, and it can impact the so-called past. You know, it can be a heal­ing process in both direc­tions. And that’s where it gets real­ly intrigu­ing. Because there’s a…there’s just—it’s a holis­tic recog— It’s a holis­tic way of rec­og­niz­ing that your actions always have some sort of impact. 

And so the now is the time” thing gets real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing because you can look back in lin­ear past and you can say, Well, now was always the time, was­n’t it?” You know. Oftentimes I’ll hear peo­ple, they’ll describe you know, if you’re talk­ing about the Antebellum South, right. And they’ll describe some­one who’s a very noble fig­ure, sup­pos­ed­ly, and that they may have had a lot of isms attached to their phi­los­o­phy and they’ll say, Oh, he was a man of his time.” It’s like yeah, but you also had peo­ple who were fight­ing against slav­ery, peo­ple who were advo­cat­ing to pro­tect native com­mu­ni­ties. So you know, this whole retroac­tive man of its time” thing, or woman of its time, it’s real­ly real­ly interesting. 

And I’m start­ing to hear peo­ple say that around times that I’ve lived in, you know. It’s like, well, wait a sec­ond, you know. They’ll say, Oh, well, you can’t indict the peo­ple of the 80s, because of their per­spec­tive on sex­u­al­i­ty.” Okay, well where are we going with this at some point, you know? Is this just always going to be the con­ver­sa­tion, where we don’t acknowl­edge that there were always a vari­ety of voic­es in the so-called lin­ear past? 

And that gets into some­thing that a pre­vi­ous pan­elist men­tioned. The gen­tle­men over here. My apolo­gies for not remem­ber­ing your name exact­ly. And that was this whole con­cept of the nar­ra­tive, you know. What is the nar­ra­tive around going to Mars? Because it’s the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive that we seem to remem­ber, some­times almost more than the actu­al actions of peo­ple in the so-called past that gets real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. So now is the time, now has always been the time to do any num­ber of things. But the nar­ra­tives we asso­ciate with that, and then the actions peo­ple take and why they take those actions says more about our belief around agency in our lives. And that’s why it’s so great to talk about the future, and to talk about Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurism, and bring­ing peo­ple to the table or mak­ing them feel com­fort­able about who they are so that they can have agency to make the now moment be the now moment and cre­ate these holis­tic spaces that help all of us.

Akpem: Yes. Yes yes yes. In terms of the nar­ra­tive, I think one of the rea­sons that I love being in the art his­to­ry depart­ment, which is a lit­tle strange but also per­fect. And I kind of go in between art his­to­ry and sculp­ture. But think­ing a lot of the work that I do with stu­dents is around decol­o­niz­ing the canon. And so think­ing about going back to the sto­ry, what are the nar­ra­tives. That is a kind of active recla­ma­tion that for me is I believe a kind of time trav­el and a shift­ing. Because we’re refram­ing the nar­ra­tive. We’re refram­ing how we see the center. 

And a lot of that is through the action of stu­dents them­selves. You know, we do projects—just with the grad stu­dents this sum­mer, the final offer­ing that we gave to the oth­er Low-Res stu­dents, and to the library (who were very amaz­ing and recep­tive), basi­cal­ly out of the thir­ty stu­dents in the class, every­one brought an artist that they felt need­ed to be includ­ed in the canon.” We also unpacked you know, how are you defin­ing the canon? And then cre­at­ed basi­cal­ly a sheet with images and names and titles of books to be giv­en to the library to order. 

But just you know, small actions like that actu­al­ly are not small but think­ing about this idea of a kind of a heal­ing of the past, as you were men­tion­ing Ytasha. Which is why I also go so much back to the Black Arts Movement and this idea of an action. What are the actions that we’re tak­ing? I look also to Rasheedah Phillips and Moor Mother in North Philly, with Black Quantum Futurism. And not only with the Community Futures Lab that they’ve set up, which is basi­cal­ly— And the work that’s come from that is being shown at muse­ums and every­thing. And so there’s that sense of agency that peo­ple have in terms of Wait a minute. Our neigh­bor­hood is being rapid­ly gen­tri­fied. What can we do?” And set­ting up almost like Sun Ra in Space is the Place, you know. Remember Spaceways Incorporated, that sort of store­front. And hav­ing the store­front and trans­form­ing it and say­ing, Wait a minute. We can lay claim.” 

I also love— I had the for­tune to expe­ri­ence one of Rasheedah’s time trav­el exer­cis­es that she does, where she takes you through the steps of imag­in­ing tak­ing some­thing from the past phys­i­cal­ly, you know, just through her instruc­tion locat­ing it in a dif­fer­ent place, send­ing it back; some­thing from the future, putting it in the past. And through that sort of ges­ture of that exer­cise, what was in the past and what’s in the future, all of a sud­den it starts to shift. And your rela­tion­ship to it starts to shift. And the pow­er that things have starts to shift. 

So even for instance with the per­for­mance that I’ll be doing lat­er, I was imag­in­ing it as hav­ing already occurred. And it’s also some­thing that run­ners do. You know, in sports, you imag­ine— And this is relat­ed but some­what dif­fer­ent, but think­ing about where we place infor­ma­tion in our mind and in our ener­gy field. And Wendy Walters in speak­ing about Blacktronic Science in Detroit, city of past, present, future. She talks about this in rela­tion­ship to the cre­ation of tech­no music, and trav­el­ing the dig­i­tal path­ways, and how Detroit is sort of sit­u­at­ed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in all of these moments and resist­ing a par­tic­u­lar loca­tion, and time is non­lin­ear. And so there’s so much in that that I find very inspir­ing as we’re think­ing about how do we under­stand now. 

In Rasheedah’s Black Quantum Futurism, she posits that now is only ever…about three sec­onds. I mean, there’s much more to it and much more in-depth, you know. She’s… a genius. But you know, if we think about what’s now, I mean…it’s already gone before you can even say the word now.” So, things like that, I like to just kind of play with that in my mind. I’m not a sci­en­tist but yeah, that kind of stuff gets me going.

Lumumba-Kasongo: And just quick­ly to jump on some names that were men­tioned. So Moor Mother’s absolute­ly incred­i­ble. She um…I don’t want to say just musi­cian” because she’s so much more than that as M O O R Mother.” And one of the things that she says in some of her expe­ri­ences, and I think this is draw­ing on some work from Sun Ra, is that the end of the world has already hap­pened. That we are in the post-apocalyptic times. And I think it’s a real­ly inter­est­ing way to think about our exis­tence because on the one hand you know, you could sort of frame it through this sort of per­spec­tive where it’s gloom and doom, but I think in oth­er ways it invites us to do the stuff that we would do in the post-apocalyptic time, right. To kind of come togeth­er, to fig­ure out new pos­si­bil­i­ties, to repur­pose, and to real­ly see this as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reshape some of the sys­tems of pow­er that exist­ed before the apoc­a­lypse hap­pened. So I think I always love com­ing back to this idea that the world has already ended.

Lempert: And relat­ing to a lot of these top­ics, includ­ing the pow­er of a term or its lim­i­ta­tions, I think Indigenous Futurism has had that impact as well. It was devel­oped by an Anishinaabe schol­ar named Grace Dillon who’s at Portland State University. She has this great book called Walking the Clouds. And what she essen­tial­ly did is take all this work that was Indigenous Futurist, and put it into con­ver­sa­tion and the­o­rized it and bring it togeth­er around cer­tain issues so that peo­ple were part of the con­ver­sa­tion. It was­n’t fringe, some­thing sci­ence fiction. 

And one of the themes that she devel­ops is this idea of slip­stream,” which is this way of think­ing about how time works that strikes this bal­ance of hon­or­ing that time works dif­fer­ent­ly in a lot of indige­nous soci­eties. But not oth­er­ing it in a way that depoliti­cizes it. Which could be a dif­fi­cult balance. 

Another thing that she talks about is the native apoc­a­lypse. And she says this pow­er­ful thing in the intro that you know, if con­tem­plat­ed seri­ous­ly, the native apoc­a­lypse has already hap­pened. But it’s a very nuanced and thought­ful dis­cus­sion about…also how there’s a dif­fer­ence between post-apocalyptic and dystopi­an, right. Dystopia is an end point. Post-apocalyptic is a begin­ning point. So instead of kind of con­sid­er­ing through health stats and every­thing is equal, if you start from a point of view in which com­mu­ni­ties are in a post-apocalyptic sit­u­a­tion, then it’s like well, com­mu­ni­ties are doing real­ly well in that way of chang­ing the frame and com­par­ing them in all sorts of ways that it stops mak­ing sense. 

And there’s just a lot of great I think films—coming back to the cre­ative side of things—that’re doing this. Most relat­ed per­haps to this dis­cus­sion is The 6th World by Nanobah Becker, who’s Navajo. And you see some stills float­ing through. And I real­ly rec­om­mend watch­ing it. It’s called The 6th World, it’s stream­ing online. But long sto­ry short, it cen­ters the Navajo nation as the lead­ing fun­der in orga­niz­ing kind of [an] orga­ni­za­tion that is push­ing for this mis­sion to Mars. And it stars a sci­en­tist who is a Navajo woman who’s an astro­naut and the lead sci­en­tist, and sort of calls into ques­tion GMO and the way that—what Mars is becomes very dif­fer­ent. It fits into the cos­mol­o­gy of Navajo… In broad strokes around The 6th World it’s not just an inert rock. 

And there’s great work that’s been done on under­stand­ing per­spec­tives on the moon land­ing from indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, where the moon is not just some inert rock, either. It’s a sacred space for a lot of peo­ple and going there, tram­pling on it, dri­ving around, tak­ing things from it for a lot of peo­ple is a vio­la­tion of some­thing and that’s often…you know, we had dis­cus­sions about sort of per­son­hood for places. These kind of things are not even in the discussion. 

And the oth­er piece I want­ed to men­tion very briefly is Lisa Jackson. She has this short called The Visit. And it involves an extrater­res­tri­al space saucer vis­it­ing Earth. And they don’t go to a Kansas farm. They don’t go to Washington DC. They go to a native reserve in Canada. And there’s not a colo­nial inter­ac­tion. And it’s hard to think of extrater­res­tri­al…any nar­ra­tives that don’t have some sort of colo­nial engage­ment. It’s an engage­ment that’s…spiritual, it’s part of the sort of the coy­ote sign in the sky and its con­stel­la­tion. It’s some­thing else. It’s the sort of oth­er­wise that you’ve men­tioned. I think that’s the pow­er of a lot of this stuff. That it involves things that are not already known. Sort of at the edge of what could can be imag­ined. Which makes some peo­ple… Or some peo­ple have chal­lenge with because it’s ephemer­al in a way but I think it’s very prac­ti­cal and polit­i­cal­ly potent, espe­cial­ly through cre­ative endeav­ors. That’s where the edge of what can be imag­ined comes into being, even more so than aca­d­e­m­ic set­tings. Yeah.

Walkowicz: So I want to sure that we have time for audi­ence ques­tions but first let’s thank our pan­el. [applause]

And as before, we have mic run­ners. So just raise your hand if you’d like to ask a question.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: So, I guess I’m think­ing about the dis­cus­sion that we had dur­ing the first pan­el about moder­ni­ty, and who’s allowed to be mod­ern in these con­ver­sa­tions. And Afrofuturisms. So I like to say “-isms” because I think I want to avoid the idea that we all have the same sort of vision of the future. And so, one of the things that I think con­cerns me, and I also think came out of Professor Child’s com­ments this morn­ing, is the idea that some cul­tures are forced into a posi­tion­al­i­ty of sta­t­ic­ness. So the moon will always be a sacred place that we can nev­er vis­it. And this sta­t­ic idea is then held as an excuse for colo­nial activ­i­ties. And so I was kind of won­der­ing about how you all kind of think about the idea of indi­gene­ity as sta­t­ic, and Afrofuturisms and indige­nous futurisms as kind of a way around that nar­ra­tive about us.

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem: Thank you, I love that. I think that’s why I keep com­ing back to… I feel like my role as edu­ca­tor and in the class­room, or in cre­at­ing projects I guess with stu­dents to explore their own rela­tion­ships, you know. So there’s this kind of—to keep that dynam­ic aspect, and incor­po­rat­ing espe­cial­ly for peo­ple who may not be— You know, I don’t teach in the per­for­mance depart­ment. So most of the peo­ple I get you know, they might becom­ing from who knows what depart­ment. And so to incor­po­rate rit­u­al or pre­for­ma­tive or— Because that’s big issue— You know, I teach African art as well and so that’s always this idea of yes, there’s this sta­t­ic past that we’re look­ing at ver­sus under­stand­ing it, the dynamism. So I think for me it’s sort of in the action, in the engage­ment, in see­ing Afrofuturism as—and stat­ing that it is a space of shapeshift­ing. Being real­ly, real­ly clear about that, that has a lot of por­tals and entry points. That’s kind of how I sort of deal with that. So, a lit­tle more gen­er­al but…yeah.

William Lempert: Very briefly, I think what a lot of Indigenous Futurist cre­ative film­mak­ers and writ­ers talk about is that assert­ing some­thing in the future, which is often silenced, is a way of break­ing out of these sort of end­less bina­ries around authen­tic­i­ty ver­sus moder­ni­ty that become end­less­ly rein­scribed and they’re so baked into the entire set­tler colo­nial project and lan­guage. And so the future…by imag­in­ing and envi­sion­ing the future… Like in The 6th World it’s envi­sion­ing a future that is very Navajo and it’s very tech­no­log­i­cal. Like the white peo­ple have to be saved. And their sci­ence is the one that has lim­i­ta­tions. And the Navajo corn is what works in the end. So I think it’s an imag­i­na­tive space that can to some extent break out of things. And Grace Dillon talks a lot about how the plur­al is essen­tial, the futurisms, is impor­tant for the rea­sons that you mentioned.

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo: So I think in a teach­ing con­text, one of the ques­tions, or one of the things that I always push back against with my stu­dents is when we talk about progress always ask­ing progress for whom? Like forc­ing them to stick that in there, because it starts to dis­lodge all of these assump­tions, I think, for them about exact­ly what you’re speak­ing about, these ideas about what moder­ni­ty looks like or like I was say­ing ear­li­er, what tech­nol­o­gy looks like, what tech­nol­o­gy means, what sci­ence means. So always stick­ing for whom,” I think, at the end of their state­ments is a way that I’ve been able to trou­ble that. 

And then in my per­son­al work, I’ve start­ed think­ing about how I can coop­er­ate ideas around sort of cyborg fem­i­nism? Or the idea of sit­ting in the dis­com­fort between all these dif­fer­ent aspects of our­selves, and know­ing that those things can’t be rec­on­ciled. And try­ing to fig­ure out how to speak to parts of myself that I’ll lat­er con­tra­dict in oth­er works and feel­ing like that’s a part of the work, and that helps to reject this sort of sta­t­ic ideas of what, you know, con­scious rap” looks like, or what rap from a black woman looks like” or sounds like,” and always try­ing to chal­lenge myself in that regard. But that’s an awe­some ques­tion, some­thing to think about.

Ytasha Womack: Oh, I was just going to note that even the way we talk about the past, there’s an assump­tion around tech­nolo­gies. There’s an assump­tion around how peo­ple func­tion, how they live their lives. I mean so many records from so many soci­eties no longer exist. And many of the records that do exist, we’re try­ing to put in a frame­work of who we think they should’ve been, as opposed to who they actu­al­ly were. So we read all the time about objects that are found and peo­ple don’t know what it is and they say, Oh, it must be a reli­gious sym­bol,” you know. So if some­one found a tele­vi­sion set ten thou­sand years from now, they’d say, Oh, it must’ve been a reli­gious sym­bol. Look at these pic­tures, they’re all star­ing at it.” Right? How would you explain what a tele­vi­sion was, and the elec­tric­i­ty, and plug­ging it into a wall if those sys­tems don’t exist in the same ways? 

So I just always ques­tion, you know, how we talk about the past. Particularly because of some of the records that we’re work­ing with, and because we don’t always val­ue oral his­to­ries in the same way. And you know, the argu­ments that one can get into about that. And when you start talk­ing about that kind of a past, where there was more tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment than we real­ly under­stand, even if it was just some­times of how soci­eties worked, that some­times mir­rors the same sort of futures we say that we’re work­ing towards. And that’s where the sto­ry­telling gets fun. Because you can leap over these trau­mat­ic moments in cul­tur­al par­a­digms, and you can in some ways ague that you’re intu­itive­ly try­ing to tap into the ideas of what this oth­er past could be. And you’re at least putting it into a sto­ry. And the fact that that’s chal­lenged some­times I think says a lot about what it means to tell a sto­ry. And how sto­ries real­ly func­tion for human beings and for our ideas of…for how ideas are spread or what we think is valu­able to preserve.

Akpem: And on that note I want­ed to just quick­ly add, if I might, about Malidoma in his intro­duc­tion to Of Water and the Spirit. He actu­al­ly talks about intro­duc­ing the elders in the vil­lage at Dagara, in Dano where he’s from, to Star Trek. He was doing this as a kind of an exper­i­ment, just to under­stand because the Dagara peo­ple don’t have a word for fic­tion. They only have a word Yielbongura” which means the thing that knowl­edge can’t eat.” And again, this is a book that I share with every stu­dent, every per­son that I—because you know, I think there’s so much in that, you know, to shifting. 

And so he showed them an episode, and the elders looked at that and they said well, Spock is kon­tom­bili. He’s just too tall, but he’s of the sev­enth dimen­sion, kon­tom­bili. So they rec­og­nized Spock as being some­one who was part of their world­view. But then also with the tele­por­ta­tion, they thought that the Star Trek episode was from a peo­ple in the past, because they looked and they said, We do this with­out all of those accou­trements. We don’t need all that…junk, and it’s so slow,” you know, What is all this?” So in their eyes this was the Star Trek as a future vision from the West, was a vision of past, clunky process as far as they were con­cerned. And so as far as sto­ry­telling, that’s the kind of thing that I get real­ly excit­ed about shar­ing, because of you know, that kind of forced shift around how do you…people think­ing about Africa, and even this idea of con­struc­tion of Africa as back­ward. But then we actu­al­ly have ways and meth­ods and ideas that are so far beyond the clunk­i­ness of the West’s future vision.

Walkowicz: Alright. We have now a longer break. And there will be a per­for­mance by Denenge imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing. So, please stick around. There’s refresh­ments in the back. And let us thank our won­der­ful pan­elists again.