Afrofuturism “Wakanda”: Urban Utopias and Dsytopias
Afrofuturism is a term loosely defined to recognize a fairly new artistry and ideology. In the book, Afrofuturuism: the World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, by Ytasha Womack art curator and afrofuturist Ingrid LaFleur explains, Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation… it is a way of imagining possible futures through a Black cultural lens”. Usually cityscapes are depicted as backdrops in afrofuturistic worlds with the main focus on humanized characters. Let us take a look at how afrofuturism can plan a big role in transforming African and African American physical urban spaces that may inevitably improve people’s quality of life.
Afrofuturism: African Urban Dystopia
Often times throughout western country’s film and art, African cities are portrayed as places of destitute, dystopian, over-crowded, and war-torn with outdated mid-20th century infrastructure, In Olalekan Jeyifous’s afrofuturism artwork, the cityscape is the main focus. Vice I-D has profiled Jeyifous’ cultural background, education and artistry, and it is nothing less than inspiring. Nigerian-born, Cornell University graduate and Brooklyn-based artist and designer, Jeyifous “makes work that imagines what the future of Nigeria could become.” He explains on his website, vigilism.com, what his latest project and my favorite exhibition of his, Shanty Megastructures, is all about. He explains “it is a visual conversation on how slums are frequently viewed as unsightly eyesores to be bull-dozed leaving their inhabitants completely displaced… and through a somewhat Dystopian vision, it speaks to the fact that these communities often suffer from a lack of appropriate sanitation, electricity, medical services and modern communication”. In this exhibition we see how the slums of Lagos, Nigeria is transformed into, what seems to be a “Do-It-Yourself’ urban planning and design approach. What stands out in Jeyifous’s Shanty Megastructures artwork is the idea of coalescing water and flora based elements to add life in what is often deemed a hopeless setting.
Afrofuturism: African Urban Utopia
Wakanda in Black Panther should inspire urban spaces in Africa and bring attention to Black urban spaces in America. As an afrofuturist and urbanist, I zealously awaited scenes depicting Wakanda’s urban context. Considering the ficticious people of Wakanda are known to be advanced people, it only made sense to imagine a city-state utopia planned and created by African people incorporating vernacular African architecture, engineering and other uniquely African elements. Similar to Jeyifous’ Shanty Megastructure exhibit, the visualization of Wakanda showcased a unique union between the people, land, water and plants. However, the buildings in Wakanda greatly differed from those in Shanty Megastructure. Scenes depicting the cityscape in Black Panther showed almost all the buildings throughout Wakanda as modern with an African architectural style. For example, the pyramid, a prominent structural shape throughout the African continent in which is noticeable from Egypt to Sudan and Mali, the dome hut, a symbol of African vernacular architecture, and cylindrical buildings were all represented in Wakanda’s ultra-modern building designs. There was no better way to celebrate what are truly African architecture elements.
Additionally, Wakanda has a distinctive African identity whose success comes from the harvesting of vibranium, a fictitious natural resource that powers their technology. It’s almost as if all African nations consolidated to harvest, utilize and export the continent’s natural resources of gold, petroleum, bauxite and uranium to create a technologically advanced country in which the wealth is distributed to its people.
Afrofuturism and Realism: Some Aspects of Black Utopias or Wakanda Already Exists
Africa has the fastest growing economies in the world. Angola's economy is growing faster than Portugal, no wonder why there are Portuguese moving into the country (source)
Can African cities skip a western style industrial revolution and propel into a new economy. For example, according to a CNN report, Cote d'ivore is expected to be Africa's fastest growing economy in 2018, however, almost half of the country's population remains in poverty and without electricity. During the industrial revolution, western countries produced electricity through fossil fuel energy sources. Can this be an opportunity for Cote D'ivoire's largest city, Abidjan, to omit the fossil fuel supply and use renewable energy such as solar and wind to harvest electricity?
African American neighborhoods in America
At the end of Black Panther, the focus has shifted from futurism to present day in the American urban environment.
Western societal norms dominate every part of American culture. For some predominately Black neighborhoods new opportunities continue to arise to form unique urban spaces from transportation to agriculture and housing. Through the lens of Afrofuturism which exhibits hope and inspiration, we can combat the dilemmas associated with poverty, inadequate housing and facilities, transportation and climate change. Do you think the ideologies of Afro-futurism can be used as a tool to resolve problems in black communities and spaces? Or do you think it is a movement that will dissipate over time?