Why Afrofuturism, Why Now? I (Panel)


American / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Maleda Belilgne (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

This session seeks papers that explore the temporal, geographical, and aesthetic parameters of Afrofuturism. In recent years, within and beyond the academy, the black speculative has emerged as central to critical inquiry, creative expression, and theories of subjectivity and citizenship. In literature, visual and the performative arts, indeed in the global black cultural imaginary, the speculative is the discourse of our times. This panel asks the important question “Why Afrofuturism, Why Now?” What is it about our contemporary moment that demands, solicits and activates the fantastic? Moreover, how do we understand the fantastic, speculative and futurist as modes of cultural production that trespass borders between high and low art, lived and imagined, theoretical and fictional, abstract and embodied, regional and transnational?

The panel proceeds from the premise that Afrofuturism is not a condition or expression of posthumanism, technological innovation or digitization but a re-visitation of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century black sonic and textual cultures. While Mark Dery’s 1994 essay “Black to the Future” is widely viewed as consolidating an emergent expressive form, this “new” aesthetic reflects an enduring commitment to the speculative in black narrative and song from the nineteenth century onward. As ante- and postbellum works by Martin Delany, Pauline Hopkins, Sutton Griggs and W.E.B. Du Bois show, making sense of the black present is inherently a futuristic endeavor. Black writers and artists grappling with the effects of racial ideology channel the speculative to address the social real and actuate a world beyond its confines.

Much like the dawn of the twentieth century, a time of shifting racial geographies and publics, our networked lives call for new grammars of race and space. The papers in this panel explore fictional, theoretical, sonic, performative, and visual expressions of futurity as constitutive of black thought and being.

This session seeks papers that explore the temporal, geographical, and aesthetic parameters of Afrofuturism. In recent years, the black speculative has emerged as central to critical inquiry, creative expression, and theories of black subjectivity and social death. What is it about our contemporary moment that demands, solicits and activates the fantastic? Possible topics include, but are not limited to, black performativity, sound studies, black speculative fiction, literature of the black fantastic, black futurity in the visual, sonic and digital arts, black comic books, and black critical theory. Please submit a 250-word abstract.