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Aesthetic Detective: Afrofuturism

Aesthetic Detective: Afrofuturism

In this month's aesthetic detective, Jenessa Williams explores Afrofuturism, a diasporic culture heavily influenced by science and technology  

Where does this aesthetic come from?

Afrofuturism aesthetic

Outfit 1: Lisa Folawiyo Two-Piece, Zendyete Necklace, Vogue Glasses, MadKollection Headscarf, "The Memory Librarian" by Janelle Monae, Saya Designs Comb, Nike Dunk Winter Solstice Edition Trainers 

Coined by American cultural critic Mark Dery in 1993, Afrofuturism is a term that encapsulates a crossover between African diasporic cultures, fashion and ever-growing technological developments. While it is often associated with science fiction, it also has significant routes in the arts, using history to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. 

"Afrofuturism is an exploration of fluid cultures, a means of exploring future worlds"

As awareness and online discussion around race relations has risen in recent years, the stature of Afrofuturism has also increased. The global success of Marvel’s Black Panther and the advent of musical festivals such as Afropunk have inspired creatives to explore beyond the realms of the "now", and think about what society might look like in many years to come. More than a trend, Afrofuturism is an exploration of fluid cultures, a means of exploring future worlds and creating new imaginations where the idea of Black liberation and reclamation is central. 

What does it look like?

Afrofuturism aesthetic

Outfit 2: VillageHats beret, Mountarium necklace, Etsy vintage coat, Etsy Braidbeads, Zara Trousers, Moses Sumney T-Shirt, "Blade" DVD  

Essentially, Afrofuturism draws on fashions that is rooted in the diasporic traditions of Africa. Ideally, this should mean shopping with Black-owned businesses, but there is also a focus on garments and materials that feel kind to the earth, made of sustainable materials or utilising natural, earthy-toned dyes.  

"Essentially, Afrofuturism draws on fashions that is rooted in the diasporic traditions of Africa"

Of course, the "future" aspect also weighs heavily in terms of more adventurous colour and print. Ankara fabric, a high-intensity, 100 per cent cotton wax print synonymous with African and Caribbean culture, features often, tailored into dramatic gowns or two-pieces that can be clashed against strong jewellery or heavy embellishment. Though it is far from essential, many of the designers that Afrofuturistic artists work with are quite high-end, focusing on bespoke, customised and individual processes rather than concerning themselves with huge-scale mass marketing. 

How can I engage with it myself?

Afrofuturism aesthetic

Outfit 3: Awake Mode Dress, Fenty Beauty Highlighter, Lynyer Ear Cuff, Alexander Wang Heels, Paco Rabane Bag, Solange "When I Get Home" record, Lelet NY Headpiece, Cantu Shea Butter Styling Gel 

Across popular culture, there any many ways to engage with the learnings of Afrofuturist thought. There are the novels of Octavia E Butler, the photography of Renée Cox and the costume design of Ruth E. Carter, who worked meticulously on Black Panther to ensure that the fictional nation of Wakanda felt sincere to the visions of Afrofuturist imagination. For those lucky enough to live in or visit New York, regular artistic exhibitions dedicated to the aesthetic frequently pop up, including 2021’s successful showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Before We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room”.  

"However you choose to engage, it should be with the knowledge and respect for a medium that truly has no boundaries or boxes"

Music, as with most cultural movements, is also a great place to start. Afrofuturism is often retrospectively applied to the work of George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic from the 1960s and 1970s, creating new-age sounds and aesthetic presentations through synthesizers, platform boots and space suits. In the 1990s, Outkast, Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott all experimented with high concept takes on Afrofuturism, while today, stars such as Janelle Monae, Solange, FKA Twigs and Moses Sumney are all pushing for more expansive understandings of what it means to be black and creative, working across many mediums. However you choose to engage, it should be with the knowledge and respect for a medium that truly has no boundaries or boxes—truly free to go wherever its Black imaginators can dream.    

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