How do we get from where we are to where we want to be with all of these constructs in the way? How do we move forward if we are constantly having to fight back? The past rolls in like a fog and clogs conversations about tomorrow with despair.
April Bey, a Black, queer, mixed-media artist, reminds us that sometimes, in order to get free, we must transcend. Positioning herself within the Afro-futurist tradition, she works with a fictional universe called Atlantica. Atlantica is inspired by the alien stories her father used to tell her as a child to explain racial oppression in the Bahamas and the U.S. Now, based in Los Angeles, Bey uses Atlantica to construct the aesthetics of the future—a reality where Black people are free from the confines of white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism.
As a Nassau, Bahamas native, Bey also incorporates the region’s tropical flora in her work. She positions the futurity of Black people in direct relationship to the environment, which can manifest as a physical landscape buzzing with harmonious texture, and draws on the legacy of Black art and literature that demonstrates how the natural world has always been part of Black liberation.
Her intricate stitching of Black people in grandeur also adds a layer of decadence to these stories that is reminiscent of African diasporic cuisine. Food seasoned over long periods of time or slow-cooked absorbs the depths of those flavors, and when tasted, envelops the palette. The process and attention to detail, alongside the historical and cultural knowledge, are the foundation.
This work, like the environment and cuisine, is immersive. Sequins, eco-fur frames, wax fabric woven into large-scale blankets, and colorful patterns are enticing in their pleasure and vitality. The sense-heavy appeal helps transport the viewer beyond the visual and into the spirit of the body, connecting generations across space and time and planting the seeds of the future. Alexis Pauline Gumbs demonstrates this connection in an essay on combat breathing, which our ancestors used to claim their freedom in a world that would not acknowledge it, and Bey conjures this through-line in stirring pieces such as “Don’t Think We’re Soft Because We’re Gracious.”
Bey’s work adds to the long and transformative history of Black and queer people who have subverted power structures through futurity, love, and hybridity. And how fitting? For she knows that to be queer is to live in the future anyway.
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Using geometric motifs and vibrant hues that contrast their brick and concrete backdrops, multi-disciplinary artist Georgie Nakima paints oversized portraits that use color to convey “divinity, resilience, strength, and beauty.” The Charlotte-based artist, who works as Garden of Journey, gravitates toward bright reds and blues to form stripes, facial features, and various plants and animals in a manner that connects the central subjects to their environments. “The color is totally freestyle, and I really like to start with a base color or gradient,” she tells Colossal. “Especially in urban societies, it’s not always inspiring when you’re surrounded by gray and brown buildings.”
A studio artist primarily, Nakima creates smaller works on paper in addition to her more monumental projects, all of which are tied to ideas of Afrofuturism and countering media narratives with positive messages. Her practice has evolved in recent years from strict hyperrealism to a more abstract style that uses patches of color and patterns. “It’s still proportionately realistic, but there’s more depth,” she says, sharing that she focuses equally on her subjects and their surroundings. “My murals are really playing to the ecosystem. I am a portrait artist. However, I don’t seek for my work to be focused on humans existence. (I want to) put some of the focus off of the human ego and think holistically about who we are on this planet.”
Nakima is currently working on a piece at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Charlotte’s first Black-owned financial institution, and you can see more of her outdoor projects, portraits on paper, and basketball court transformations on Instagram.
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Hundreds of thousands of sleek, black LEGO structure the utopic universes by Toronto-based artist Ekow Nimako. Ranging from life-sized figurative sculptures with an eccentric twist to sprawling landscapes mimicking dense metropolises, Nimako’s artworks are rooted in the visionary realm of Afrofuturism, which “explores the intersection of technology and race to visualize a powerful future for the African diaspora” through a hearty dose of hope and strength.
His ongoing series, Building Black, is an expansive collection that encompasses fantastical masks inspired by West African tradition and mythological characters that draw on folklore and proverbs. Another facet includes a broad, architectural sculpture that expands 30-square-feet. The 2019 work is titled “Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE,” a reference to the capital city of the ancient Ghana Empire that’s thought to have contained a mosque, a central square, and various circuit walls.
Running through each of these artworks is a fluid understanding of time and space that blurs the distinction between generations, locations, and histories in order to imagine a new reality. “We are all living proof of our ancestors, all their joy, love, knowledge, and pain. They live in our DNA,” the Ghanaian-Canadian artist says. “Aesthetically, I enjoy taking elements from bygone eras and creating futuristic landscapes, particularly of African utopias to imagine a liberated existence for us all.”
That blurred temporality that foregrounds his sculptures and installations parallels his own trajectory, as well. “My art practice developed when I was four years old, as I constantly told myself I want to do this (play with LEGO) forever, and sometimes it feels as though my future self communicated with my past self, astrally perhaps, to ensure this very specific destiny manifested,” he says, noting that the plastic blocks have remained a fixture in both his personal and professional life since becoming a father.
Today, Nimako works solely with black LEGO, a choice designed to distinguish his practice from the iconic brand. “My distinction was that I wanted to make artwork for which the medium was secondary,” he shares. “The form and content, the embodiment of life, always comes first with my work.”
In 2017, Nimako published a guide to LEGO animals, Beasts from Bricks, and plans to continue teaching with a tutorial for building afrofuturistic worlds that’ll launch on his site this June. He’ll be included in a group exhibition at Onsite Gallery starting in June 2022 and also has a solo show slated for October of next year at Dunlop Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan. In the meantime, explore a larger collection of his elaborately designed universes on Instagram. (via Hyperallergic)
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British photographer Luke Nugent captures a wide range of style, beauty, and personal expression in his creative photo shoots, for which he often works with London-based hair stylist Lisa Farrall. Nugent highlights women of color in his varied series, from the more subdued everyday styles in Emancipate to the Afrofuturism-inspired Armour, which was a finalist for the 2016 British Hair Awards.
Nugent studied photography at London’s University of Greenwich, and has been shooting professionally since his late teens. He creates work for a variety of commercial and editorial campaigns, with a focus on fashion, portraiture, and music. You can see more of his photography on his website, as well as Instagram and Behance.
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Self-taught Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru (previously) fashions extravagant eyewear from pieces of found metal and other salvaged materials on the streets of his hometown of Nairobi. Kabiru has been building his futuristic glasses since childhood and dedicates much of his time to producing works for his C-Stunner series of eyeglasses and coordinating photographs. Recently Kabiru has begun to expand his work to include large non-body-based sculptures, installations, and collage.
Kabiru’s practice is deeply tied to Afrofuturism, a genre that combines science fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction with the culture and politics of the African diaspora. His work was featured in the newly released Gestalten publication Africa Rising: Fashion, Design and Lifestyle from Africa. You can see more of his eyewear and larger sculptures on Artsy and SMAC.
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