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AFRA@UD Faculty Reflect on Black Futures in Times of Crisis

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Picture of person in dispersed crowd holding picket sign that reads George Orwell Octavia Butler Margaret Atwood They Warned Us

​What do art and theology have to do with Black futurity? What can they teach us about Black life and death during times of social and political upheaval? AFRA@UD faculty members Monica A. Coleman, Tiffany E. Barber, and Colette Gaiter explore these questions in a series of public humanities workshops, a two-part virtual exhibition and blog series, and a recently published article. 

Coleman, with Afrofuturist writer Tananarive Due, has been hosting an online webinar series called “Octavia Tried to Tell Us: Parable for Today’s Pandemic” to address the role of religion and hope during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar, which debuted in early May, is one of several Butler-based teach-ins, podcasts, and other projects that have sprung up this year. Coleman has been teaching Octavia Butler's dystopian novel "Parable of the Sower" in her courses since 2006. The novel is particularly relevant now. Nearly 30 years after it was published and more than a dozen after its author's death, “Parable of the Sower” popped up on The New York Times bestseller list in early September 2020. Like other resurrected titles, such as George Orwell's "1984" and Albert Camus' "The Plague," Butler's novel seems to have gained new readers fascinated by its evocation of an American society that feels itself besieged by nature and a struggle for power. Read more about Coleman's workshops and the relevance of Butler's novel here.

Barber's Afro Future Females course addresses similarly topics, interweaving Butler with black feminist theory and other Afrofuturist texts. As extension of these converging points in light of COVID-19, Barber guest curated a two-part virtual exhibition titled "Curating the End of the World." In collaboration Reynaldo Anderson and Stacey Robinson of the Black Speculative Arts Movement and hosted by New York Live Arts, the exhibition brings together an international cadre of artists whose work responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Black violence, climate change, poor governance, trans-humanism, and an accelerating, technologically driven economic system on the verge of collapse. View part 1 of the exhibition here and part 2 of the exhibition here. With Jerome P. Dent, Jr., Barber also co-edited New Black Surrealisms featured on Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society. New Black Surrealisms uniquely combines critical writings on Black visual culture with avant-garde, Black-made media to frame Black artistic production as an important facet of African American intellectual history.

In "Visualizing the Virus" for The Conversation, Gaiter, who teaches courses on design in the Black diaspora and art and social change, reflects on the many visual manifestations of the Coronavirus. Gaiter explores how these visualizations have become iconic, what visual images of COVID-19 communicate, and what that says about how we’re all grappling with this strange, uncertain time.

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