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José Bedia, Júbilo de Aponte, 2017, mixed media on mixed papers Courtesy of the artist

These Artists Re-Imagined The Artwork of an Afro-Cuban Revolutionary

'Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom' is a new exhibition bringing a lost book of paintings to life.

To date, the court testimony of José Antonio Aponte, a free black man thought to be of Yoruba origin and eponym of the doomed 1812 anti-slavery rebellion in Cuba that bears his name, is the only evidence of an unusual historical artifact, a so-called libro de pinturas or "book of paintings," found hidden in his home by colonial authorities.


Though the book remains lost, the 72 images that Aponte describes, many of which depict an evocative vision of black history, continue to exist in the imagination of scholars and artists alike. Now, more than two centuries later, a group of artists have attempted to recreate Aponte's revolutionary "book of paintings," as part of a new exhibition entitled, "Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom."

15 artists were invited to participate to "pay homage to the singularity of Jose Antonio Aponte's world vision," explains Édouard Duval-Carrié. The Haitian-born artist and Miami resident is one of several curators of the exhibit, as well as one of its featured artists. In fact, it was Duval-Carrié that approached fellow curator Ada Ferrer with the idea to do an exhibit after coming across her book, Freedom's Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution.

Édouard Duval-Carrié, Prester John's Emissaries, 2017, mixed media on paper in artist's frame Courtesy of the artist

"Édouard's idea, I think, also intersected with scholarly interest in broadening our understanding of Aponte as the artist behind this lost work of art," says Linda Rodriguez, an Aponte scholar and another of the exhibit's curators. She and Ferrer also helped to organize a symposium in 2015 which in turn led to a project entitled Digital Aponte, a recently launched website dedicated to the life and work of Aponte.

In a way, "Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom" expands upon at least one of the aims of the symposium, which Rodriguez describes as "thinking deeply about Aponte as a creator, in addition to his role as an organizer of slave rebellions." The result is a wide-ranging exhibit of artwork by mostly Caribbean artists, as well as the more general African diaspora of the Americas, in which Aponte's book becomes what Rodriguez hopes viewers will recognize as a "living object."

"Some like Marielle Plaisir (Martinique) and myself went to great lengths to reconstruct the images (laminas) as they were interpreted in the trial's transcripts," Duval-Carrié explains. "Others such as Jose Bedia (Cuba) and Renée Stout (USA) were more interested in conveying the general spirit behind the the book itself particularly their understanding of Kongo cultures as they expressed themselves in the New World and as they understood it. While many others just had gut reactions to the story itself."

Marielle Plaisir, Lámina 23, 2017, inks, gold pigment, pencils on paper Courtesy of the artist

It certainly helps that the "book of paintings" is itself a rich source of imagery. "Aponte represented figures and scenes that spanned centuries and continents, including Greco-Roman mythological figures, scenes from Bible, personages from Ethiopian history, buildings and locations in Havana, depictions of Europe and Asia, and members of his own family," says Rodriguez. (For a full list of the book's subject matter, go here.)

Still, there is an almost inscrutable quality to Aponte's book. "Likely, colonial authorities used the word "painting" as they had no other way to succinctly describe what they were seeing," says Rodriguez. Moreover, the book was perceived to be a subversive threat. "Colonial officials believed Aponte's book to be central to his organizing and they focused a lot of their energy on trying to understand it," according to Rodríguez.

In Ferrer's opinion, "The exhibit provides a tangible example of the ways art and politics can each inform the other." "Aponte used his art to imagine other worlds, and that process of imagining other worlds was also part of his revolutionary politics," she continues.

"It resonates in a lot of ways with our contemporary debates on the politics of representation," adds Rodriguez. She cites the #OscarsSoWhite campaign by April Reign as one such example: "She [Reign] has talked about how she wanted her campaign to question the structural reasons behind the lack of inclusive storytelling. In similar ways, Aponte recognized the importance of the visual to write known and new histories at the service of an imagined and more equal future."

Among other things, Ferrer hopes that those who see the exhibit will develop "a knowledge and appreciation of Aponte as both an antislavery revolutionary and as an artist and creator." Yet it is a much broader perspective on display, as Rodriguez notes: "Aponte's vision of the African diaspora, and black history provided his viewers with a vision of belonging."

"Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom" opens on December 8th at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, FL. Afterwards, the exhibit will be on display at the NYU King Juan Carlos of Spain Center in New York from February to May 2018, before making its way to Duke University in the Fall of 2018.

Juan Roberto Diago, Tarraco, 2017 Courtesy of the artist

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

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There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

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The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

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