EastBay Today

Posted March 3, 2020

When is Wakanda

Cal State East Bay professors, alumni partner with Oakland museum to host Afrofuturism panel

This month, in partnership with Cal State East Bay, the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland will host “When is Wakanda: Afrofuturism and Dark Speculative Futurity.”

Afrofuturism is a movement in literature, music and art, encouraging Black people to look at the past and reframe their current narrative.

“It is an intersectional lens through which to view possible futures or alternate realities, though it is rooted in chronological fluidity,” said Bolanle Austen Peters in an article published on Africanarguments.org.

The upcoming panel is lined with familiar Cal State East Bay faces, including alumna and MOCHA Executive Director Nina Woodruff-Walker, as well as Cal State East Bay professors Lonny Brooks, Nicholas Baham and Douglas Taylor. Other people and organizations contributing to this event include Katita Johnson from the Oakland Technical High School's Fashion Academy, Joe Murphy from the Speculative Future Meetup group, and Reynaldo Anderson, founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement, among others.

Brooks said event-goers should expect an interactive and immersive experience from start to finish. Several portions of the day will touch on topics including art, science and literature as well as a discussion about what Afrofuturism is and a critique of the film “Black Panther.” Cal State East Bay alumnus Leo Theus and other artists will have work on display, and all attendees will have a chance to participate in the game “Afro-Rithms From the Future” created by Brooks and game designer Eli Kosminsky. 

“Afrofuturism is important because it allows us to really look at how we want to democratize the future and gives marginalized people agency over what that future can be,” Brooks said. “That future has to be based in the arts, anchored in science and a space where people can see themselves.” 

What is Afrofuturism? 

Cal State East Bay Professor Nicholas Baham III's academic research focuses on African American religious experience, sexuality and artistic expression. He previously served as an editor for "The Journal of Future Studies" 2019 edition entitled "When Is Wakanda? Afrofuturism and Dark Speculative Futurity." Baham recently sat down with East Bay Today to talk about Afrofuturism and why he's created a class at Cal State East Bay focused on the topic. These answers have been edited for style and clarity.

East Bay Today:

What is Afrofuturism?


Mark Dery was the first person to define that term, but for me, Afrofuturism is essentially a decolonial practice, largely creative and arts-based that helps Black people forecast themselves into the future, into a world of increasing technology, and also to revisit their past. In some cases, to take non-Western elements from the past and project those into the future. 


What can you tell me about the MOCHA event you'll be participating in?


I'm appearing on a panel there, and I'll be talking about my class and the fact that on this campus with Doc Brooks, Douglas Taylor and Dennis Chester, we formed this Black Afro-futurist society. 


What can you tell me about the Afrofuturism class you're teaching?


So this is the first time I've ever taught it, and the first thing students should expect from it is that we're going to totally "geek out." The class is divided into five areas, including theory, literature, graphic novels, film and music.


Why did you create an Afrofuturism class?


Because I'm a total geek. I grew up with all the comic book stuff, I grew up fantasizing about it for myself, and now I get to do something that reflects that. It's kind of cool that the stuff that I wanted when I was young is now manifest, and I'm in a position to teach it, so why not do it? 

“When is Wakanda” will take place Saturday, March 21, at the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

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