Inspired by the Afrofuturist blend of sci-fi, tech and tropes of diasporan culture, Nigerian artist Munachi Ogsebu offers his notes on what the movement means to him
Fighting for representation and altering people’s perception is something 22-year-old Nigerian artist and photographer Munachi Osegbu feels strongly about. Heavily influenced by the Afrofuturist movement and aesthetic, Osegbu’s work turns POC into otherworldly beings and places them within beautiful sci-fi settings to create new narratives for black bodies. Since graduating from NYU earlier this summer, he’s already worked with a roster of brands including Nicopanda, Converse, and Epic Records. A key contemporary proponent of the movement, here he describes what Afrofuturism means to him, from its overlooked origins to its pervasive cultural significance in modern culture.
Whenever I’m asked what Afrofuturism means, or what it means to make Afrofuturist work, I always say that at its core, it is a reimagining of blackness: a re-awakening of the past, a recontextualisation of the present, and a new conceptualisation of the future.
The power of art in this world is unparalleled – it is the manifestation of the cultural zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Historically, the creative industries like film and fashion (what the masses consume) have been complicit in the subversion of black people in the West through systematic exclusion and a heavily monitored representation of blackness, which informs the way we see ourselves and each other within society. Now that the power of storytelling has become more democratic, thanks to the internet and the rise of platforms dedicated to championing the voices of POCs, artists have taken it upon themselves to re-tell those stories of blackness and create a fantasia that will serve not only a cultural aesthetic, but a philosophy of history that explores the intersection of the African diaspora culture with science and technology.
Science fiction has always been about exploring the idea of humanity and its struggles within major social, environmental, and technological changes. The post-colonial diasporans exist in a universe as fantastical as any sci-fi movie, and combining these symbols with traditional African elements allows for that reimagining. It’s essentially a big “fuck you” to colonial history.
Although Afrofuturist art and literature didn’t become widespread until the 1950s, I believe the foundation for the movement was laid all the way back in 1859, when Martin Delaney, a political figure who was known as the “father of Black Nationalism”, began publishing his science fiction style series Blake; or, The Huts of America in Anglo-American Magazine. Blake tells the story of a successful slave revolt in the South that resulted in the creation of a new black state in Cuba. The narrator is a scientist, who seeks to rebuke racist pseudoscience and study the ways in which African contributions to math and science were foundational for the West.
In the mid-to-late 20th century, many black artists like Imagination, Earth Wind Fire, and Sun Ra began to use elements of African imagery in conjunction with the new space-age visual lexicon to create a unique new idea of blackness. The music video for the song Age of Aquarius by The 5th Dimension, released in 1969, is a MAJOR Afrofuturist moment. The author Octavia E. Butler also made major contributions to the movement with her sci-fi literature that explores the inner worlds of black female protagonists. Even blaxploitation films like Blacula (1972) had Afrofuturist undertones in the way that they created new narratives for black characters that had never existed before.
In the 21st century, especially in the past few years, Afrofuturism has completely permeated popular culture, music, film, and fashion. High racial tensions and the worldwide discussion of anti-black systems in the West have inspired diasporans to dig deeper into the culture of their ancestors, which in turn has inspired black artists to look towards the future to inspire their crafts. Black Panther is a modern continuation of Martin Delaney’s black Utopian fiction. Janelle Monae’s The Archandroid (which also happens to be my favourite album of all time) is a heart-wrenching set of perfectly crafted songs that tell the story of an Afrogynoid’s love and heartbreak within a dystopian universe.
Elsewhere, artists like Christian McKoy AKA @3rd_eyechakra and Sarah Nicole François are using 3D software to depict new futurist narratives for black bodies. “Afrofuturism is extremely important to me,” says Christian. “I think a lot of people think black art is one dimensional which is completely false and most likely stems from the myth that black people are monolithic. This art movement really lets black artists shine and show their true multidimensional selves. I want blackness in the art world to be as strong and memorable as the diaspora has been to the entire world.”
There are also black artists like Tomasyn Hayes who are using avant-garde humanoid prosthetics and makeup to express new forms of beauty. “Afrofuturism is having the ability to transform yourself using all of your creative freedom to tell the world, ‘I do not conform to your standards of beauty, and I really don’t give a fuck how you feel about it,’” she says. Within this space, there is a reversal of the Eurocentric idea of beauty because it exists outside of that paradigm.
These small notions of change are all around us, and the influence is growing exponentially. Representation and perception is key to how we understand each other as humans, and the only way to change someone's perception is to literally change their PERCEPTION of what can be real, whether it be through film, fashion, music, visual art or any creative practice. As man and machine come closer together, we will be the ones in charge of telling our own stories.
Photographer: Munachi Osegbu
Model: Tomasyn Hayes @lustsickpuppy
Make-up artist: Cupid @cupidsvault
Set: Alishanee Chafe-Hearmon @alishaneee