Black Lady Cyborgs is what the future sounds like. It’s a mixtape on women-centered Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic formed to interrogate the past and present, particularly surrounding issues of oppressive technology and empire, and to theorize a liberated future for Blackness. In the 70’s, musicians like Sun Ra, Drexciya, and Parliament Funkadelic began to open a space for this aesthetic imaginary within music. In his 1974 film “Space is the Place”, Sun Ra says, “I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as the myth because that’s what black people are: myths.” In the 90’s, Erykah Badu’s Baduizm served to continue the tradition innovated by Sun Ra, reinventing R&B into what is often referred to as “neo-soul” in a women-first, Afrofuturist ethic. In the 1993 article ‘Black to the Future’, Cultural Theorist Mark Dery coined the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in discussion with Brown professor Tricia Rose.
Janelle Monae is the most obvious current torchbearer of Afrofuturism. Her concept albums The ArchAndroid (2010) and The Electric Lady (2013) overtly reference “Space is the Place” and feature reigning Afrofuturist Queen Badu. But Monae’s theorized “new other”, a sort of intersectional Donna Haraway cyborg, has opened space for an explosion of futuristic Black female cultural production in neo-soul in the past year.
Right now, maybe the most famous new Black Lady Cyborg is British artist FKA Twigs, who in October released a music video and concept film for Google Glass entitled “#throughglass,” for which Twigs had artistic autonomy over choreography, design, direction, filming and performance, while wearing and using the incredibly futuristic Google Glass “smart” glasses technology. New artists like Twigs, SZA, Solange, and many more show themselves to be again reinventing and reclaiming the genres of soul, R&B, and hip-hop by wielding sci-fi and technology in the tradition of Afrofuturism both intentionally and unintentionally. Black Lady Cyborgs continue to make incredible WOC-centered art while perpetually reinventing themselves, because, like the Q.U.E.E.N. video says, “it’s hard to stop rebels that time travel.”
More links on Afrofuturism and Black Lady Cyborgs!
Black to the Future– How women in pop are carrying the mantle of Afrofuturism
Interview: The Studio Museum Harlem– Interview with Afrofuturist curators
The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto– A reimagining and critique of popular Afrofuturist claims
The Days of Future Past: Afrofuturism and Black Memory– A cogent survey of Afrofuturist tenets and history
Inside Afrofuturism: This movement is not for co-opting– Interview about films and the present/future of Afrofuturism