In Pictures: See the Afrofuturist-Inspired Works in the Hayward Gallery’s Blockbuster Show ‘In the Black Fantastic’

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An elaborate science fiction story about a future in which all people of color have been transported away from Earth; visions of bodies made out of a mix of limbs and machine parts; brilliantly colored, decorated suits that keep Black people safe from harm—these are the visions that inspire “In the Black Fantastic,” which opened to rave reviews at the Hayward Gallery in London last week. The show presents work by 11 contemporary artists from the African diaspora that embraces themes of science fiction, folklore, and pageantry to imagine alternate realities that confront our societal assumptions about race.

“As a concept, the Black fantastic does not describe a movement or a rigid category so much as a way of seeing shared by artists who grapple with the inequities of racialized contemporary society by conjuring new visions of Black possibility,” said the show’s curator, writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun.

Aindrea Emelife, writing in the , noted the “hopeful, fizzing energy” of the works, adding that the show “embodies the message of Afrofuturism, a term first coined in 1993 to describe a movement that seeks to uproot, take apart and reinvent the stagnant cliche of Africa as a continent of misery and oppression, imagining a newly self-defined agency over a future ideal and image that explores the infinite, fantastic possibilities of Black futures.”

The Southbank Center has launched a summer-long program of performances, talks, and exhibitions to complement the Hayward show, including “In the Black Fantastic Weekender” (July 15–17), a three-day program of events including poetry readings, films, and discussions. Also on deck is a free outdoor exhibition featuring works by Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, and Lina Iris Viktor.

Kara Walker, Prince McVeigh and the Turner Blasphemies (2021). © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin.

Hew Locke, Ambassador 1 (2021). © Hew Locke 2022. Photo: Anna Arca.

Sedrick Chisom, Medusa Wandered the Wetlands of the Capital Citadel Undisturbed by Two Confederate Drifters Preoccupied by Poisonous Vapors that Stirred in the Night Air (2021). © Sedrick Chisom. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Mark Blower.

Nick Cave, Soundsuit (2014). © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Mandrake Hotel Collection.

Wangechi Mutu, The End of eating Everything (2014). Courtesy of the Artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Victoria Miro, London. Commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC.

Rashaad Newsome, Build or Destroy (2021). © Rashaad Newsome. Courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery.

Alisha Wormsley, There Are Black People in the Future. Courtesy of the Southbank Centre.

Installation view of Nick Cave works, “In the Black Fantastic” at Hayward Gallery, 2022. Copyright the artist; Photo: Zeinab Batchelor, Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.

Installation view of Hew Locke works, “In the Black Fantastic” at Hayward Gallery, 2022. Copyright the artist; Photo: Zeinab Batchelor, Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.

Installation view of Rachaad Newsome works, “In the Black Fantastic” at Hayward Gallery, 2022. Copyright the artist; Photo: Zeinab Batchelor, Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.

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