Smithsonian’s African American museum debuts Afrofuturism exhibit

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  • Published on March 28, 2023
  • Last Updated May 15, 2023
  • In Culture

The exhibit, which closes March 2024, features artifacts from film, TV, music and more.

On March 24, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture debuted a cutting-edge new exhibit that will have you looking ahead to what could be.

The exhibit, titled “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures,” explores the concept and history of Afrofuturism, and how it has engaged with African American history and contemporary pop culture trends.

“To think on Afrofuturism is to consider what the National Museum of African American History and Culture has long been dedicated to—that is, the bright future that Black people imagined and brought into being while confronting a perilous present,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the NMAAHC, in a news release. “Afrofuturism has also long been a mix of celebration and resistance, musicality and theatricality, achievement and survival. Much of this mix-making and myth-making was through music, from the Negro spirituals down to jazz and gospel, funk and hip-hop.”

The term Afrofuturism originated in 1993 by culture critic Mark Dery. The term is an evolving concept conveyed through the Black perspective that reimagines and reclaims the past and present for African Americans, while also looking toward a brighter and more empowered future. The NMAAHC exhibit utilizes over 100 artifacts from film, TV, music, fashion, literature and more to tell the story of Afrofuturism’s expansive history, while also exploring its impact on American culture at large.

Stevie Wonder and TONTO: Technological advances in synthesizers allowed Stevie Wonder (b. 1950) to create futuristic sounds heard on his albums in the 1970s, including “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life.”
Stevie Wonder and TONTO: Technological advances in synthesizers allowed Stevie Wonder (b. 1950) to create futuristic sounds heard on his albums in the 1970s, including “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life.” Musitronics Corporations/National Museum of African American History and Culture

According to the official new release, the exhibit is divided into thirds. “The History of Black Futures” will explore “how the enslaved looked to the cosmos to envision and plot their freedom.” “New Black Futures” examines Afrofuturism in the 20th century, where visitors will get a glimpse at how Black Americans used mediums such as art, technology, music and more to confront racism and inspire future Black creatives to envision life outside of oppression. “Infinite Possibilities” serves as the exhibit’s conclusion and explores how Black Americans in the 21st century use film and technology to create liberated worlds.

Cape and jumpsuit worn by André De Shields from “The Wiz” on Broadway
Cape and jumpsuit worn by André De Shields from “The Wiz” on Broadway Josh Weilepp National Museum of African American History and Culture

 

The 4,000 square-foot exhibit features highlights such as Octavia Butler’s typewriter, Vernon Reid’s guitar, the cape and jumpsuit worn by André De Shields from “The Wiz” on Broadway, and Black Panther’s suit worn by Chadwick Boseman.

“Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” is open now until March 24, 2024 in the Bank of America Exhibitions Gallery. Free timed-entry passes are required for entry.