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← Afrofuturism in popular culture | Wanuri Kahiu | TEDxNairobi

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Showing Revision 18 created 04/29/2016 by Denise RQ.

  1. My talk

  2. [is] about Afrofuturism and the African.
  3. Afrofuturism is considered
    what speculative fiction,
  4. myths, legends, science fiction,
  5. and the stories of that genre
    are to African Americans,
  6. Africa, Africa of the Diaspora,
    and black people in general.
  7. What Denenge Akpem refers it to is
    what blackness looks like in the future,
  8. real or imagined.
  9. Now, the history of Afrofuturism
    comes from America
  10. and was first coined
    by a man called Mark Dery.
  11. When he started
    talking about Afrofuturism,
  12. he talked about the idea of literature--
  13. so the books
    that Octavia Butler would write
  14. and things like that--
  15. but then it also moved
    into a new region, of music,
  16. so we would have people
    like Sun Ra and George Clinton--
  17. but for me, especially Sun Ra because
    he has a special place in my heart.
  18. He believed that he came
    from the planet Saturn
  19. and came to Earth to spread
    the message of love and peace.
  20. Like in his movie "Space Is the Place"
  21. he introduces the idea of alien
  22. to black people in America.
  23. But that was very specifically
    about African Americans,
  24. and I wanted to find a place
    for Afrofuturism in Africa.
  25. The first place that that led me
    to is Mount Kenya, obviously,
  26. where the god of Mount Kenya lives
    according to the Kikuyu tradition.
  27. So Mwene Nyaga is seated
    on top of this mountain,
  28. and he introduced our Adam and Eve,
    Gikuyu and Mumbi,
  29. and from that we're descendants
    of the nine children.
  30. But even before the idea
    of the myth of Gikuyu and Mumbi,
  31. the idea of Afrofuturism,
  32. or legends, and myths, and stories
    were told to me by my mother.
  33. She is a great storyteller
    as well as a pediatrician
  34. so I'd have to say that her stories
    were truly science fiction, truly.
  35. (Laughter)
  36. I remember her telling me stories
    about the way if I ate the pumpkin,
  37. my hair would grow.
  38. Or if... --
    which is strange --
  39. if I attach leeches to my nipples,
    my breasts would grow.
  40. And also...
  41. I did it.
  42. (Laughter)
  43. And also she would talk about the way
    that in the Kikuyu tradition,
  44. if you circle the Mugumo tree seven times,
  45. you would change sex.
  46. Growing up, obviously,
    past my mother's stories,
  47. I began to read stories of my own,
    and they were inevitably filled
  48. with the ogre and the young girl
    who wandered off into the forest,
  49. and what would happen
    if she wandered off into the forest,
  50. and how she would meet this horrible ogre
  51. because she departed
    from the ways of the society.
  52. That's also when I met Ben Okri,
    and the idea of the spirit child,
  53. and the idea of using spiritualism
    or mythical realism within storytelling.
  54. That, for me, is also
    a link to Afrofuturism.
  55. But what really,
    really inspired me about Ben Okri
  56. was his ability to merge seamlessly
    the idea of the spirit world and fiction,
  57. and the idea that we live in a continent
  58. that is so closely linked
    to the spirit world
  59. that we use it
    in a very everyday sort of way.
  60. That is true
    when we come to witch doctors,
  61. sangoma, or people who deal
    with the spiritual realms.
  62. It's also true of genies of the coast,
  63. and I don't even know how many of you
    have gone to Mombasa or Zanzibar,
  64. but I know from personal experience
  65. there was a cat that followed me
    for five kilometers,
  66. or every time I turned around it was there
    and I could have sworn it was a genie.
  67. I'm positive about it.
  68. In fact, I have friends
    who attest to the fact as well.
  69. So Afrofuturism has always been
    part of our culture, part of us.
  70. But more interestingly, it has been part
    of the history of West Africa.
  71. West Africa believe --
    especially in Mali,
  72. there is a nation
    of people called the Dogon--
  73. and the Dogon people believe
  74. that they were told
    about a planet called Sirius B
  75. before it was discovered
    by Western scientists.
  76. They were told of this planet
  77. by a race of amphibian-like aliens
  78. who came in from the ocean
  79. and told them, not only about the planet
  80. but also about the rotation of the planet
    and how it worked in space.
  81. Some of the cave drawings, like these,
  82. showed the amphibian creatures
    at the bottom of the people,
  83. or the people who came
    to speak to them about this planet.
  84. Then, later on, it was discovered.
  85. So they had the knowledge in 1930,
  86. but it wasn't until the 70s
    that the actual planet was seen.
  87. If that isn't curious science fiction,
  88. history, I don't know what is.
  89. But also from South Africa,
    we have people like Credo Mutwa
  90. who believes there is
    a reptilian race of people
  91. whose bloodline extends
    into modern day royalty
  92. and modern day business people
  93. and is what, I guess, theorists
    would call The Illuminati.
  94. So we've established that fact--
    fact or fiction--
  95. myths have always existed
    very, very closely to us,
  96. but there's been a growing need
    for the idea of Afrofuturism,
  97. and I'd have to ask why?
  98. And when talking about it,
    I talked about it to a friend of mine,
  99. and he said,
    "Africans are inherently futuristic,
  100. given the sheer capriciousness
    of our present situation."
  101. That was my friend Michael Odhiambo
    who reckons he's very clever.
  102. Then there was a writer called
    David William Cohen who says,
  103. "The struggle of man against power
  104. is the struggle of man
    against forgetting."
  105. This makes a lot of sense
  106. because it's been suggested
    that Afrofuturism, as a genre, is growing
  107. because as Africans,
    or as descendants of Africa,
  108. we've never had a space or a voice
    within our own history.
  109. We've never had a chance
    to talk about our own history;
  110. it's always been written by other people.
  111. Now, because we don't have
    a link to our own history
  112. or because we didn't have
    a grasp on our own history,
  113. we're using Afrofuturism
    to stake a place in the future
  114. so we can strongly identify
    ourselves in the future.
  115. Mark Dery argues
    that the younger generation
  116. have used technology
    as a way to insert themselves
  117. into both a real and imagined landscape
  118. to physically assert
    their presence in the present
  119. and to make it clear they intend
    to stake their claim in the future.
  120. So because we can't reclaim our history,
  121. we are now trying
    to project our own future.
  122. Of course, in projecting our own future,
    we have to ask where are we doing it?
  123. In what spaces are we doing that?
  124. In Kenya, we're doing it in music,
  125. and we have some
    of my favorite musicians here as well,
  126. but just a band have, to me,
    demonstrated Afrofuturism
  127. in their own music,
  128. especially in one
    of their latest songs Huff+Puff.
  129. They say, "Give me five,
    it's good to be alive.
  130. The sky seems so far away.
  131. Hope you know we've been
    to the moon and back.
  132. Be sure that nothing's
    going to hold us back."
  133. So we know that we are larger than life.
  134. We know that we are larger than Earth,
  135. we know we are larger than the cosmos,
  136. and that is reflected
    in our work and in our music.
  137. Around the continent, obviously,
  138. there's people like Nnedi Okorafor
  139. who wrote a book called "Who Fears Death".
  140. And this is a matte painting
    done by Ivonne Wende, a Kenyan,
  141. about the book "Who Fears Death".
  142. In "Who Fears Death" what Nnedi does
  143. is that she uses the idea
    of manipulating technology,
  144. as we know it,
  145. to understand where we are
  146. or to be able to grasp our environment.
  147. And as Africans, we do that all the time.
  148. We use technology that has been used
    outside of our space
  149. or that was invented
    outside of our own spaces
  150. and use it in our own ways.
  151. What Nnedi Okarafor does
    in "Who Fears Death"
  152. is that she creates
    these particular machines
  153. called water catcher stations,
  154. and they absorb all [the water from]
    the atmosphere around them
  155. so that people can take baths,
    can have clean drinking water,
  156. [inaudible] and so forth.
  157. That's the fictional side of it.
  158. But in practice, how are Kenyans
    using Afrofuturism?
  159. I have to say I would refer
    to AfriGadget, the website
  160. that has a plethora of different people
    doing very inventive, and for me,
  161. very futuristic things, including
    a young 13-year-old called Richard Turere,
  162. and what he did is that he created
    a way to run a flashlight invention,
  163. run off a car battery,
  164. to keep predators away
    from his family's property.
  165. That to me is a very Afrofuturist sense
    of using technology,
  166. but in a very rustic way,
    in a way that makes sense to us.
  167. In my film "Pumzi" I used
    the idea of technology,
  168. and this is a picture
    of what we call self-powered generator;
  169. and there would be these people
    running on treadmills
  170. and they would generate electricity
    in order to power where they lived.
  171. I thought I was being very imaginative
    until I googled it.
  172. (Laughter)
  173. And I wasn't so much.
  174. Self-powered generators do exist.
  175. They do, there are ways of using
    kinetic energy to power stations.
  176. It's not completely
    in practice at the moment,
  177. but it's an idea of the ways
    that we can use technology
  178. in a very Afrofuturist setting
  179. to be able to run our everyday things.
  180. There's obviously nowhere
    we can talk about the future
  181. without talking about technology.
  182. In "Pumzi", I also talk about
    the idea of communication,
  183. and I know from my own experience
  184. that I would be sitting
    across the table from a friend
  185. and we would tweet each other.
  186. Now we have learned to communicate
    in 140 characters or less.
  187. Even when I'm talking about the things
    that are happening in my life,
  188. I'll use a hashtag, as if it were
    part of the sentence.
  189. In "Pumzi", what I did
    is I created this idea --
  190. and we'll see it in a second --
  191. about how we use different layers
    of technology in order to communicate
  192. and the thought process of that
  193. is that we're looking
    for more efficient ways of communicating
  194. rather than finding emotive ways
    of communicating.
  195. For me, what is most important
    and what I've found from making "Pumzi"
  196. is that the idea of Afrofuturism
    worked the best for me
  197. because I'm able to extrapolate on ideas,
    and thoughts, and feelings I have
  198. about the way the world is running
  199. without offending people
    or without being too heavy-handed.
  200. For me, what "Pumzi" was
    was a reflection of society,
  201. and it's set 35 years after the Water War,
  202. and where everybody lives inside because
    they've been told the outside is dead,
  203. until one character, Asher,
    wakes up from a dream --
  204. which is not allowed,
  205. because everybody is supposed
    to be taking dream suppressants --
  206. and she finds a seed that she then plants,
    and it starts to grow.
  207. But in a world where the outside is dead,
  208. and her being the curator
    of a virtual natural museum --
  209. and that's the only place
    you have access to nature --
  210. she had to find, to fight a way
    outside of herself
  211. to be able to prove that life exists.
  212. That's "Pumzi".
  213. But my metaphor for "Pumzi"
    is about life and sacrifice,
  214. and the fact that we ourselves
    have to mother Mother Nature.
  215. We have to make sacrifices
    in order to live in this one,
  216. and we have to know that our own behaviors
    will affect generations to come.
  217. As a storyteller
    in the tradition of the Kikuyu,
  218. my job is to be a seer,
    not just a historian
  219. and to be able like Moreau
    who predicted the coming of white people
  220. as if they were colorful butterflies
    or the train in the sense of the way
  221. that he saw a snake with smoke
    coming out of its head
  222. to be able to say:
  223. there is more to life than we see
    and listen to the storytellers.
  224. They also have a voice,
    and their voice is important.
  225. So, I leave you with a clip from "Pumzi",
  226. and this is just an indication
    of the possibilities of the human mind,
  227. the possibilities of Afrofuturism,
  228. and how Afrofuturism
    relates to us as Africans.
  229. (Applause) (Cheers)