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A new exhibit, “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures”, is set to open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on Friday, March 24. Showcasing objects from OutKast, Octavia Butler, and Marvel’s “Black Panther,” the new exhibit inspires viewers to reimagine the past and future of Black culture.
The exhibit will remain open for a year, ending on March 24, 2024. Located next to the Washington Monument in D.C., the Museum has welcomed more than 8.5 million visitors and more online since opening in 2016.
“To think on Afrofuturism is to consider what the National Museum of African American History and Culture has long been dedicated to—that is, the bright future that Black people imagined and brought into being while confronting a perilous present,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in a March 9 news release.
First coined by critic Mark Dery in his 1993 essay “Black to the Future,” the term Afrofuturism was first embodied by famous science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, a Black woman who blazed an afrocentric trail in an industry dominated by White men.
From film roles played by rising star Jonathan Majors to the “Black Panther” franchise, the artistic aesthetic known as Afrofuturism is ever-evolving.
It’s loosely defined as “a wide-ranging social, political and artistic movement that dares to imagine a world where African-descended peoples and their cultures play a central role in the creation of that world,” according UCLA Magazine writer Delan Bruce.
Afrofuturism exhibit reimagines past, present and future
Using more than 100 objects from music, film, television, comic books, fashion, theater, literature and more, the new exhibition covers more than a century of Afrofuturism’s rich history of expression and investigates its impact and broad influence on American culture.
It’s divided into three sections.
“The History of Black Futures” allows viewers to witness how enslaved people looked to the cosmos to envision and plot their liberation.
In the second section, “New Black Futures” introduces viewers “to the dynamic set of ideas, practices, criticisms and widespread cultural production related to Afrofuturism in the 20th century, leading into the present,” according to the Smithsonian. It highlights how Black Americans used technology, art, literature, music and film to navigate past racism in the modern era.
The third section, “Infinite Possibilities,” explores how creators have used comics, animation, music and film to imagine new, liberated worlds and landscapes.
“This exhibition is a way to look at how Afrofuturism has been practiced throughout history and across the diaspora, and the ways it is expressed, historically and in the present, through art, literature and activism,” said curator Kevin Strait.
“We hope that visitors learn more about this topic by seeing the various ways that Afrofuturism connects with and influences our popular culture and gain a broader understanding of Afrofuturism, not simply as a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy, but as part of a larger tradition of Black intellectual history.”
Additional highlights of the exhibition include:
- Octavia Butler’s typewriter
- Vernon Reid’s guitar
- Cape and jumpsuit worn by André De Shields from The Wiz on Broadway
- Trayvon Martin’s flight suit from Experience Aviation
- Red Starfleet uniform worn by Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek
- Black Panther costume worn by Chadwick Boseman
- George Clinton’s wig from Parliament-Funkadelic
“Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” fills more than 4,000 square feet of space with rarely seen artifactions, along with interactive technology and artworks to examine how Black Americans see themselves within American history, media, and pop culture.
For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.