Diasporal Rhythms presented Afrofuturism aficionado Ytasha L. Womack at Hyde Park Art Center June 1, 2019. It was an “AWESOME” experience. Ytasha carried many of us from a state of unknowing, to the heights of an elevated consciousness, yearning for more.
Ytasha Womack is a phenomenal woman in every inference one can characterize from the phrase. She is an author, film maker, outstanding lecturer and an influential philosopher whose futuristic perceptions will have a profound effect on reimagining the future of African American life. She conceptualizes Chicago as the cornerstone of Afrofuturism. It is a city continuously in search of identity, or in ways to redefine itself. Metaphorically, Chicago can be described as the mothership for African Americans of the Great Migration who sought a new homeland and a new identity, a dream state, a futuristic vision of refuge.
African Americans are also still seeking a common identity to replace our tribal identity. Evolving from trauma as a captive to enslavement to Negro to Colored to Black or African American, WOW. Afrofuturism provides that mechanism for identity through the imagination and the arts as in the movie Black Panther. Womack describes its qualities as an aesthetic expressing itself through multiple genres as in the futuristic sounds of Sun Ra, or of the fiction or philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois, or in our super heroes. Just think, Chicago was the home of the first African American President of the United States.
Ytasha Womack defines Afrofuturism as an intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation. It combines technology, science fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity and magical realism and mysticism within Western beliefs. We find its influences in music, art, literature, dance, philosophy, science, technology and mysticism. Its emphasis on imagination transcends reality and influences the followers to release limitations and to embrace unlimited possibilities. Free your mind from boundaries to reach your highest potential is a concept also found in New Thought Religion which Ms. Womack has studied extensively. New Thought Religion also frees the mind from the constraints of some organized religions and lends its believers to embrace a brighter future for themselves through practices in metaphysics, positive thinking, healing, creative visualization and embracing a personal power. Perhaps its expansive parameters influence her description of Afrofuturism as leading us to reimagining the past and speculating about the future. Her lecture also touched upon areas of quantum physics such as the non-linear characteristics of time. The past, present and future are one.
I must admit that initially I found her advanced concepts intangible until she mentioned IFA and its timeless principles. IFA is an ethical system, sometimes referred to as a religion, of the Yoruba people. In a similar form it is the religion of the first humans on Earth. Its principles have influenced Voodoo, Santeria, Candomblé, and the Judeo-Christian evolution. IFA has 16 principles, the first of which is “There is one God.” Evidence of its existence can be traced back for at least 12,000 years which predates other religious systems. Inherent in its practices is divination which many Westerners view as esoteric. However, it is founded on an ancient binary system of 256 odus, or patterns. Its binary code system influenced the ICHING, tarot the Egyptian and Polynesian cultures and the modern-day computer which is also founded on 256 binary formats. Predicting probable outcomes is far more intricate and requires the skill and knowledge of the Babaloa. Though few westerners credit the Africans with the ancient knowledge of binary combinations, it is worthy of your research.
A few weeks ago, Physicist from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore and Griffith University in Australia developed an experimental quantum device to accurately predict future outcomes using robust algorithms. This is exactly what Africans have been doing for 12,000 years, using the complexities of numbers to predict with great accuracy the probable outcome of specific conditions related to the dynamics of human conditions. Imagine, this is Afrofuturism spanning time and space. Its timeless principles influenced the present and the future.
The Mystery of the Dogon tribe was a futuristic phenomenon offered as an example from the audience. The Dogon tribe of West Africa asserts that an alien group, the Nomma, from the star Sirius, visited them in ancient times. The existence of Sirius A, B, and C was not proven by
astronomers until1995, just as the Dogon assert. Oddly, Carl Sagan disputed the foreknowledge of the Dogon. The Dogon, reputed to be of Egyptian ancestry from 3200 B.C., are located in Mali. Consider this, anthropologist assert Mali is the ancestral home of the blues. Transported in the hearts, minds and rhythms of the captives to Mississippi, we tend to think of it “the blues” as a virgin North American musical expression. Wouldn’t it be an Afrofuturistic marvel if “The Blues” is an alien art form, brought from the constellation Orion to the Dogon and subsequently to Mississippi?
In the 1940’s and 1950’s until 1969, there were numerous Black comic books depicting themes of Black romance, detective stories, fantasy, hero myths and Black history. My 6th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Terry ordered a series of Black History comic books for our class. Each had metaphoric messages of determination and overcoming adversity to achieve greatness. The one I remember with great clarity was the Saga of Toussaint L’Ouverture, a great man of honor and vision. Mr. Terry made him come to life in a fairy-tale like land of make-believe. I liked the way his name sounded and would repeat the rhythmic cadence over and over. Mr. Terry championed this great leader, who defeated Napoleon and the French, in the only successful slave rebellion in the world. He then defeated the English and the Spanish armies present on the island of Saint Dominique This monumental happening also marked the beginning of racism as we know it today. People of African descent were subsequently recognized as endowed with tenacity and organizational skills, therefore posing a significant threat. Toussaint L’Ouverture changed his last name, Breda, to inspire his people in the land that was to become Haiti. His new name, L’Ouverture meant that this was only the beginning, an opening, an introduction to something significant, an Overture as in Opera. The significance of Afrofuturism reminded me of those imaginings Mr. Terry inspired in me at nine years old. Afrofuturism is possibly only the beginning of a substantial change in consciousness for African Americans.
Be sure to pick up a copy of AFROFUTURISM BY YTASHA L. WOMACK.