Afrofuturism-inspired Dance Theatre Performance Explores Art, Technology

(Warning: Mild nudity)

“Speech Sounds,” a dance theatre performance choreographed and curated by Makeda Thomas, explores the metaphors for art and technology that come out of Afrofuturist culture.

The dance theatre work calls on improvisation, dances of the Orishas, and Thomas’ “richly-honed” contemporary movement to ask, “What does it mean to be a performer of the present? Of the future?”

“Speech Sounds” gets its title from Octavia’s Butler’s Hugo Award winning science fiction short story about a future world “where the only likely common language was body language.” Three powerhouse performers engage a performative strategy that pushes its elements in, to, over and beyond themselves; and explores the metaphors for art and technology that come out of Afrofuturist culture. It looks at improvisation, as an exploration of the dancer’s self, and how it transitions to a shared experience with the audience. It further asks, then, what does it mean to be a performer of the present? Of the future?

Each performance, each iteration of the work exists in multiple variations, with each variation being characterized by the improvisations of the performers. In this way, the work is imbued with its own autonomous power that engages a more present performer—a future performer—in moments of infinite imaginations and re-creation. Speech Sounds is about the spaces between selves; of how individuals connect and disconnect; of isolation and companionship; of what happens when we lose that which we value the most—be that a person, symbol, idea or name; and, of arriving at a loss of words.

The choreographic work is being underscored by an ongoing global transnational historical research project that seeks new critical understandings of history and identity in the African diaspora. The research navigates through West Africa, Western Europe, the United States, Venezuela, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Trinidad.

The embodied aspects of that research explores how Orisha dance, which bears unique syncretisms of those distinct cultural histories, and as “an earthly manifestation of the divine through human movement,” is embedded into the improvisatory dance practices of contemporary dance artists and creates new choreographic, movement, and performance processes. This research, as “Bring de Power: Orisha dance as a mobile technology of African diasporic identity making,” was presented for Dancing the African Diaspora—Theories of Black Performance at Duke University in February 2014.

“Speech Sounds” is set to make its U.S. debut in Fall 2015, and is being made possible with a Performing Arts Award from Creative Capital and a fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas.

Learn more at

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

Philly Celebrates Black Sci-Fi and Afrofuturism Through November with Charity Ball, Film Screenings, Workshops and More

One of the beautiful things about Afrofuturistic and Black nerd culture seems to be the fact that you can enter it from any point or perspective. Afrofuturism, whether applied retrospectively to the works of Sun Ra or used as a creative medium in the here and now, tracks what the future looks like across time, from various points and locations. If you apply the lens correctly, it can connect you to the speculative future from the imaginative standpoint of a Black woman writer by the name of Octavia Butler, born in California in 1947, or help you envision the future formed from the liberation philosophies of a political activist by the name of Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica in 1887. Afrofuturism, in my opinion, functions as an open-source free space, where people can self-identify as Afrofuturists, craft their own modes of practice from some core, general principles, and participate in their own ways – either individually and/or as part of the broader community of Afrofuturists.

For the past four years, I have experienced the multifaceted expression of Afrofuturism through an event that I curate in Philadelphia called The AfroFuturist Affair Charity & Costume Ball. At the annual ball, we celebrate and bring awareness to this culture with a showcase of self-identified Afrofuturistic visual artists, musicians, performers and authors who all use the Black speculative imagination as vehicles for their work. Artists featured at the ball are diverse in their theories, topics and modes of expression, but all of their work embody common Afrofuturistic elements – tapping into our ancestral memory, while envisioning our personal and collective futures as African-descended people.

This year, the annual AfroFuturist Affair Charity & Costume Ball has expanded space-time from one evening to a monthlong celebration of Afrofuturism. In addition to the fourth annual costume ball on Saturday, Nov. 8, we will have events throughout November, including workshops, a dance party, readings, film screenings, art exhibits and a punk rock show, all exploring the theme of Black Holographic Memory, the collective unconscious memory of Black people throughout time and space contained within each individual, passed down through our shared ancestry. It is a conscious activation of ancestral memory through music and art.

The kickoff event will feature bodypainting, pop-up photoshoot, and live music and performance art from experimental group Visibly Inflight, hip-hop group Ganja Goons, soul and folk group Violet Marley, producer and musician Marlo Reynolds, experimental artist Moor Mother Goddess, author James L. Hampton III, performers from Cirque Mannik, poet Joy KMT, DJ and producer Wino Willy, experimental sound project Nyfolt, musician and artist John Wesley Moon, spoken word artist Warren C. Longmire, and hip-hop artist Sindian. This event will take place at Impact Hub in North Philly, which will also host a monthlong exhibition of Afrofuturist artwork, with pieces from Noni Red, Omi Urban Gypsy, Nyfolt, Selam Bekele, John Moon and Dezz Archie. At the Indigenous Futures afterparty on the same night, we will have DJ Haram, DJ PreColumbian, and DJ Nolita Selector, all women and genderqueer media activists and DJs of color who spin experimental, house, trap, bass, and global music.
We will be hosting a film screening event at Impact Hub on Nov. 13, which will feature Afrofuturist, speculative, Black sci-fi, and horror films. The screenings will include Prince of Nowhere by Selam Bekele; A Dangerous Cure by Kevin Jarvis, Last Man Standing by Stan West, NOISEGATE by Donovan Vim Crony , Walk With Me by Art Punch Studio, and other shorts. We will be Skyping in to talk with some of the filmmakers after the screenings.

The monthlong celebration will also feature an experimental space for social practices of Afrofuturism through cultural workshops and speculative fiction readings at A*Space on Nov. 15. There will be experimental workshops, mini-lectures, readings, and a musical performance. Activities will include time travel experiments, fiction after the end of history, a guided journey in order to find the oldest, blackest memory in the DNA museum, featuring Metropolarity Speculative Fiction collective, scholar Rone Shavers, Almah the Alchemist, poet and performer MMGZ, Afrofuturist author and healer DjaDJa Medjay, and music group BHTP. The final event for Black Holographic will be held on Nov. 19 at Dahlak Restaurant, in collaboration with community partner, Rockers!, a monthly DIY event in Philly that showcases Black and female-led punk bands from all over the country.
All proceeds from the Black Holographic Memory events will benefit the Futurist Fund, a grassroots-style community grant dedicated to serving the needs of an underserved or marginalized member of the community with an immediate and demonstrated need, and without other available funds or resources to meet that need. This allows the proceeds from the events to cycle directly back into the communities where the events are held. The grant seeks to connect the philosophies of Afrofuturism to principles of liberation and upliftment of disenfranchised communities. The DIY/grassroots principles of the organization do not require corporate backing. We are proud to receive support for the events from women-owned small businesses and community organizations such as Philadelphia Printworks, Lissa Alicia IMM, Metropolarity, Rockers, and
The AfroFuturist Affair Charity & Costume Ball – and Afrofuturism in general – engages the Black community as a vehicle through which people can push beyond the confines of the mainstream narratives and stereotypes that have marginalized their interests, experiences, and their very existences. In the form of art, critical analysis, music, fashion and literature, Afrofuturists correct the records of our histories and interrogate the present structures and institutions of modern-day society, all while building future worlds where Black people have agency and a significant presence.

For more info and tickets to Black Holographic Memory, please visit
If you can’t attend the ball but still want to support, please donate to our IndieGoGo campaign at !

6 Organizations Every Black Nerd Should Know About

1. Kemetic Youth Foundation (Ferndale, Michigan)

Teaching the Kemetic history, theology, wisdom and understanding while supporting, educating and empowering our young people. Monthly workshops, lectures, support groups, writings.

blerds afro 3

2. East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (Philadelphia)

ECBACC, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, holds the annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, America’s premier Black comic book convention encouraging youth literacy and expression through reading, writing and drawing comic books. “ECBACC offers workshops and activities dedicated to promoting literacy and creativity. The great thing about this is that the ECBACC was founded in Philadelphia, the city of many of the nation’s firsts — the first President’s House/White House, university, library, museum, public park, hospital, bank, zoo, prison — and the very first independent ‘Black comic book’: All-Negro Comics created by Orrin C. Evans in 1947,” said Yumy Odom, founder and president of ECBACC, Inc., and a self-described archivist of the Afrocentric comic book tradition who has been using comic books in the classroom since 1982.

Black Speculative Tech – Uses of Technology in Black Science Fiction, Part 2

While history books would have us believe that scientific and technological advancement suddenly sprang forth during the Age of Enlightenment in late-17th century Western Europe, a deeper dig into the matter reveals that the institution of African enslavement has an inextricable connection to the development of the Western scientific establishment. Scientific experimentation and studies on enslaved Black bodies became the justification for continued enslavement. In her book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet A. Washington provides a history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, presenting the first full account of the gross mistreatment of Black people as forced subjects of experimentation.

Because of institutional racism and our positions as mere subjects of science, Black people have typically been excluded from the mainstream scientific establishment as actors, practitioners, researchers and policymakers. Black scientific and technological innovation and achievement have gone virtually unrecognized, save for the handful of Black scientists and engineers who get their acknowledgments during Black History Month. Contrary to perceptions of Blackness as divorced from tech and science, we have a long and well-documented history, present and anticipated future of technological development behind and ahead of us. In this series, we continue to explore the expansive realm of Black speculative technologies in music, art and literature.

Afrofuturism: Black Presence in Sci-Fi Worlds of Technology, Magic, Fantasy

The term “futurism” typically calls to mind a forward-looking aesthetic or theme that envisions the prospective future of humanity. If popular speculative/sci-fi media, art, literature, and film are any indication, the images that people typically draw to mind when envisioning the future involve post-apocalyptic aesthetics and landscapes, highly advanced technology, and interplanetary or outerspace travel.

Glaringly absent from these visions of the future, however, are diverse cultures and complicated, intersectional identities. Although creators of speculative fiction have been able to successfully conceive of novel technologies, map out the future of humanity, and envision new worlds in science fictional narratives, traditional sci-fi has, on the whole, failed to transcend the social hierarchy, supremacy, and privilege that plague our present-day realities.

In a traditional speculative world, these narratives replay over and over, where the marginalized are virtually non-existent or play exceptionally minor roles, seemingly due to inferior genetics and an inability to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions.

This is where afrofuturism as a genre, lens, community, and practice becomes important, not as a response or reaction to the lack of representation, but as testament to the fact that not only have Black folk (along with other marginalized groups) already made it into the future, we are, in fact responsible for shaping it.

The term afrofuturism, coined in the 1993 essay “Black to the Future” by cultural critic Mark Dery, is today generally understood to be one of the umbrella terms for the substantial Black presence in the worlds of sci-fi, technology, magic, and fantasy.

Distinctive from other notions of genre-based futurism, afrofuturistic concepts of sci-fi, fantasy, myth, and speculation bind both the past and future, delivering them to a “now” in visual, literary, musical terms, and any other mode of expression that one sees fit to attach the lens to.

Afrofuturism is visionary and retrospective and current all at once, recognizing time as cyclical, spiral, revolving, and usually anything but linear, much like the space-time traditions of our ancestors from the motherland. In this way, afrofuturism creates a perpetually accessible bridge between ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants, between our futures and our pasts, reminding us that we are a part of the future that our foremothers and fathers shaped because their experiences remain embedded in our experiences and give context to our choices.

Under this interpretation of afrofuturism, I find it to be a potent– even if at times imperfect — platform upon which I can launch my own science fiction/science possibility stories and practices. The community, imagery, theory, and language that I came across in afrofuturism and Black sci-fi inspired the creation of my own organization, The AfroFuturist Affair.

Founded in Philadelphia in 2011, The AfroFuturist Affair was formed to celebrate, strengthen, and promote afrofuturistic and Black sci-fi culture through creative events, community workshops, blogging, and creative writing. We use proceeds from events to fund the Futurist Fund Community Grant, which serves underserved members of the community in need of emergency assistance funds.

Afrofuturism has also helped me to find very natural connections between the work I do as a legal services attorney providing free legal assistance to poor Philadelphians, my own experiences growing up as a young Black nerd, and the speculative fiction phenomenon.

Over the next six months, my pocket of space-time on Blerd-Out will explore the intersections of technology, speculative fiction, Black/African-American culture, and their roots and ties to ancient African traditions of technology, science, and cosmology.

R. Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”