The Rift: An Afronaut's Journey
Ayodamola Okunseinde is an artist and interactive designer residing in New York City. Okunseinde was researching current projections of the future and found that Africans and people of the African diaspora are largely left out of these conversations. He found this extremely alarming because leaving a culture out of the context of the future or excluding them from narratives of the future is dehumanizing. This leaves a group of people without the ability to dream and imagine themselves in future time-spaces. The ideas and projections of the future of a culture add strength to that culture in the present.
This research culminated in a performance and narrative Okunseinde created in 2015 called The Rift. In this performance Okunseinde plays Dr. Tanimowo, an afronaut from the future who travels back in time to try and understand the collapse of his culture. He collects archeo-biological artifacts from the past to help further his understanding, as well as aid him in critiquing our present. His afronaut suit consists of multiple component parts and is made of a combination of African patterned fabric and other materials from his future time. The first component of the suit is an air filter and cooling system. Other components consist of a crossbreed plant and animal organism he carries for consumption and a communication device. The mask of the suit is a breathing apparatus, records video and audio, assists in communicating, and is a status indicator. The suit itself has an outer protective layer, spiritual undergarment, a processing unit, and a control panel. Dr. Tanimowo returns to New York City in 2015 and explores primarily African-American neighborhoods, such as Harlem. Okunseinde's creation of Dr. Tanimowo in our current time-space serves as a the missing representation of Africans and the African diaspora in the future.
Although the suit is obviously futuristic, it isn't harsh and is still inviting making his excursion through various communities of New York City welcoming. In documentation footage, you can see Okunseinde speaking with many people on the streets about his suit and his narrative. Okunseinde's work is a part of a larger theme of AfroFuturism. The political landscape that Okunseinde is speaking to is vast, which make this conversation that much more important. The disenfranchisement of African-American people in America is severe and, more than anything, Okunseinde's project is advocating for change. While Okunseinde was working on the project, he was assaulted by a police officer, which further propelled his work. He stated to Brooklyn Magazine:
“[He] wrestled me to the ground and all of a sudden, it just flashed in my head, ‘oh yeah, this is what happens. I can be killed right now like nothing.’ And that sort of sparked a lot of stuff in me, and propelled my thesis project for it. Since then, it’s been every month… every few weeks where you see something disgusting and vile. Not only an elimination of the representation of future projections, which then drives policy and perpetuates that elimination in the virtue sense, but then you have the physical elimination of bodies in the killing of black people and incarceration. It’s an existential issue now with this political quagmire that we’re in. We have an obligation to speak on it, and we do that through our work.” Okunseinde, Ayodamola (Mar. 29, 2016) Meet the Brooklyn Artists Building a Future for the African Diaspora
Okunseinde continues to work with Afrofuturist themes and is currently a resident at Eyebeam collaborating with Salome Asega. The pair is working on a project called Iyapo Repository, a museum and resource library that houses artifacts the artists have created to affirm the future of peoples of African descent. Unlike The Rift, the narratives are made from community input. Okunseinde and Asega created a game that helps others create drawings of artifacts of the future. These crowdsourced artifacts drive the intent of community that The Rift was discussing and takes the original thesis to a whole new level. The Rift feels like the tipping point for this larger project. Antwaun Sargent of The Creators Project describes a work from Iyapo Repository that is included in their Eyebeam exhibition called The Scale.
"In To Scale, the artifacts on display address current concerns and forward thinking possibilities of the black community... Artifact:025 is a GPS necklace that vibrates as a way to alert its owners when they are at the cross-streets of a police involved shooting in New York City, part a futuristic reminder that black lives matter." Sargent, Antwaun (May 22 2016) Afrofuturist Museum Mines Artifacts from the Future
Projecting the future through art and technology is a popular avenue for illustrating ideas. Tom Sachs's Space Program: Mars is one of the most famous contemporary executions and one of the largest in scale. The artist was thinking about space travel to Mars and the planet's potential for life. He created an entire space program, including a mission control, rocket ship, scientists, and astronauts. The artist and his crew worked through every possible detail of the space mission including the tensions that could rise between two astronauts being sequestered together. They worked through materials and necessities for their astronaut suits, just like Okunseinde did and then performed the entire mission from start to finish at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The work is so important to this conversation of future projections and art because Sachs worked through the same ideas that NASA scientists would work through when planning a mission and did so with more freedom of creative research and exploration. Sachs even had conversations with real NASA scientists to understand the process.
A large difference between Sachs and Okunseinde are their perspectives and critical thinking for the work. Sachs was thinking about the future from his perspective with NASA in mind. Okunseinde was thinking about the future from his perspective as well, but was aiming to recontextualize it for a culture who is disenfranchised today in hopes to spark changed ideas in the future. In fact, Sachs speculative future narrative didn't include any people of color working towards Mars space travel. Two women played the astronauts, which was empowering to depict. Yet, their position of power in this narrative still felt lower on the chain of commands. Mission control and the scientists of the performance watched them tentatively in their space shuttle through a live video feed the entire performance and barked orders to the women throughout. Though the ideas of culture and progressive inclusion were not the subject matter for his work, its still important to note that even creative research like this still appears exclusive. Both Okunseinde and Sachs are important creative figures working through ideas of the future, but the framework for those ideas couldn't be more different.
The Rift: An Afronaut's Journey has been included in the following exhibitions and conferences:
- Internodal 0.5: Supersaturation at BKLN, NYC. 2015.
- AfroFuturism Conference: The New School, NYC. 2015.
- Designing Multiplicity: Parsons MFA Design & Tech, NYC. 2015.