By Nii B. Andrews.

Today’s all encompassing dystopia demands new and imagined worlds.

Ekow Eshun steps up and presents a rich, strange, visually stunning exhibition featuring the work of 11 African diaspora artists at London’s Hayward Gallery, titled “IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC”.

The works on show include: painting, photography, video, sculpture and mixed-media installations.

****Rashaad Newsome, Stop Playing in My Face!, 2016, at In the Black Fantastic. Photograph: Rashaad Newsome Studio/Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.*****

In the process, science fiction, myth, spiritual traditions and the legacy of Afrofuturism are all sampled, reimagined and recontextualised thus providing “immersive aesthetic experiences that bring the viewer into a new environment somewhere between the real world and a multiplicity of imagined ones.”

Fantasy is utilized by the artists as a vehicle for creative and cultural liberation and a means of addressing  discriminatory practices by conjuring new ways of being in the world.

The participating artists are Nick Cave, Sedrick Chisom, Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, Rashaad Newsome, Chris Ofili, Tabita Rezaire, Cauleen Smith, Lina Iris Viktor and Kara Walker.

****Lin Iris Viktor. Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.*****

Wangechi Mutu has a video animation piece titled, THE END OF EATING EVERYTHING. 

It references the Roman myth of Saturn, who ate his offspring after Gaea prophesied that he would be overthrown by his children. 

Thus Mutu reminds us of the looming existential threat and attendant question: Is the world so deeply insecure, so stuck in the quicksand of ego that we would rather destroy ourselves – gorge on ourselves and so our future – than change?

Eshun’s curatorial zeitgeist provides a powerful edge to all the diverse material on show, and in addition a strong takeaway message. 

****Nick Cave’s Soundsuit, 2014, at In the Black Fantastic. Photograph: James Prinz/Nick Cave/Jack Shainman Gallery/Mandrake Hotel Collection.*****

It is this: in order for us to move towards a truly decolonised art world then we must realise that it should not require an artist to fit neatly or repeatedly into a category – especially those narrowly defined by geography, gender or any other shallow definition. 

Quite clearly it is exhibitions like this that provide (the otherwise unnecessary impetus) for an enlarged and more inclusive art canon.

****Annunciation, 2006, by Chris Ofili at In the Black Fantastic. Photograph: Chris Ofili/David Zwirner.****

The expertise of the participating artists coupled with Eshun’s curatorial perspective enables and encourages us to take apart and reinvent the stagnant cynical cliche of Africa as a continent of misery and oppression, while “imagining a newly self-defined agency over a future ideal and image that explores the infinite, fantastic possibilities of the future”, …a fantastic future for all.

*******IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC – Hayward Gallery, London; June 29 to September 18th****

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