The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American Culture and History’s exhibit, “Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined,” is on display until Sept. 5. The exhibit features the work of artists such as Arvie Smith (left), M. Scott Johnson and Monica Ikegwu.(Photos courtesy of The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American Culture and History)

By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer,

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum currently has their “Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined” exhibit on display. The multi-medium art display is highlighting the idea of Afro-futurism and the many pioneers who have helped shape the ever growing subculture.

Afro-futurism is dynamic and isn’t easily defined; however, its inability to be limited is what inspired the exhibit at the Lewis museum.

“We thought it was a really cool topic to begin to have people think with the perspective of not ‘what is happening to us’ but ‘what we can create for us’,”stated Terri Lee-Freeman, president of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. She added, “Afro-futurism is whatever you decide it is.”

The exhibit was curated by Myrtis Bedolla and was on display in Venice, Italy, before making its way to Baltimore in March of this year.

Freeman noted that Afro-futurism isn’t new. There have been many historical Black figures that were Afro-futurists because what they imagined for Black people seemed impossible during their lives.

“Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were Afro-futurists because they believed in Black liberation, which was a very futuristic perspective when they were alive. There are so many people that we can think of, and these historic characters were actually focused on the future of Black people,” said Freeman.

The full exhibit that was on display in Venice has been scaled down to feature eight artists, including pieces from talents such as M. Scott Johnson, Tawny Chatmon, Larry Cook, Delita Martin and Felandus Thames. Through their art, guests have been encouraged to think beyond what people have known Black life and culture to be like both historically and currently.

While guests of the museum are imagining, there are some people that are living and practicing Afro-futurism as a way of life.

“Afro-futurism is the amalgamation of our Black footprint within this planet and beyond. It’s how we kind of interpret that through arts, science, music, technology and religion. [Afro-futurism] is deeper than just a conversation, it is a full lifestyle and walking with your Blackness,” said DeNai “BFLY” Nixon.

Nixon is a local film producer and the co-founder of Blak Water production house. She and her husband, Kariz Marcel have been participating in the Afro-futurist lifestyle for nearly a decade. The two explained  how they incorporate Afro-futurism into different aspects of their lives.

“We incorporate Afro-futurism into our approach to fashion and we both incorporate very old and new things into our design aesthetic in general. We live as Afro-futurists to tap deeper into who we are as a people, and our abilities based upon what our past and history is,” said Marcel.” We reflect on how we’ve built so many things, and how it was natural for us to continue to build and combine time periods.”

Although Afro-futurism can be very complex, for some it’s as simple as Black people no longer being disadvantaged and breaking historical barriers that are thought to be everlasting. It is something that they as a people have to nurture today in order to see it grow tomorrow.

Freeman explained that Afro-futurism is based on what Black life and culture could look like. It’s a progressive movement that’s continuously pushing the boundaries on what Blackness is and the things that are associated with it.

“I believe that it is a look on what can be and it is not necessarily a current state. It’s about what the promise is. I think each person has to define it for themselves,” Freeman said. “ The future will be what we make it. It can be as wonderful as we want it to be but it’s going to take some effort, it’s not just going to happen.”

Nixon discussed the importance of Afro-futurism and how necessary it is in order to tell the many stories of the Black community.

[It’s important] because it gives us a broader sense of the way we lead in business, the way we can create community and the way we’re able to communicate our vast experience of God. It’s really important to connect the diasporic experience here and abroad,” Nixon said.

The “Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined” exhibit has been open since March of this year and will be on display until Sept. 5. In addition to the exhibit, an artist panel will take place on Aug. 19 at 2 p.m.