Speculative Blackness: Re-imagining the Human in Afrofuturism

Abstract of the paper I presented at the Black Portraiture(s) II Conference in Florence, Italy 28-31 May 2015:

The histories of slavery and colonialism are informed by the violent hierarchies of racial distinction in which human subjectivity is possessed only by whiteness. In Eurocentric visions of the future whiteness claims ‘post-humanism’ in ‘post-racial’ apocalyptic worlds. Afrofuturism as a philosophical critique and a cultural practice challenges this temporal teleology of humanness. By recoding the traumatic histories of enslavement and biopolitical colonial terror through imaginative projections of technological pasts and futures, Afrofuturism questions the racial assumptions of the ‘human’ and ‘life’ in global history and memory.

In contrast to the idealization of the body and the human in traditions of photography and visual art, Afrofuturism presents images of the black body as cybernetic, robotic and alien. This presentation considers examples of Afrofuturist visual art, popular culture and sci-fi imagery to interrogate the fate of the human, humanism and futurity in black critical thought and postcolonial critique of biopolitics and ‘bare life’.

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