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Curator Zoe Whitley '01 Discusses 'Afrofuturism' Exhibit at Harlem Museum

The Wall Street Journal: 'Afrofuturism' on Display in Harlem Museum

A century from now, what will it mean to be black? Will the earthly concerns of history and identity retain their weight in outer space? Those are the sorts of questions posed by the Studio Museum in Harlem's exhibition "The Shadows Took Shape" ...

After emerging in the 1990s to describe a strain of African-American science fiction, Afrofuturism as an idea has grown to encompass an array of music, movies and art. Precursors include the sci-fi author Samuel R. Delany, the funk band Parliament-Funkadelic and especially the late Sun Ra, an avant-garde jazzman who changed his name from Herman Poole Blount and claimed the planet Saturn as his birthplace.

"A lot of people were influenced by Sun Ra as this larger-than-life character, born in Alabama, where everything in his life was saying he was lesser-than, who decides to create his own identity," said Zoe Whitley '01, the show's other co-curator, based in London. "He's Sun Ra. He's from Saturn, and he really embraced that."

The idea of inventing a fantastical world and living in it has persisted in black music - see contemporary pop stars such as OutKast and Janelle Monae - but it appears in the work of other kinds of artists as well, many of them active outside the U.S.

The Studio Museum show features work by 36 artists representing 15 countries. ...

"All the buildings actually exist - he photographed monumental state architecture but reframed it as if it were part of a fabled launch," Ms. Whitley said. "We wanted to open up a lot of conversations and make this an expansive subject, rather than a kitschy [history of] Labelle and their silver lamé jumpsuits. That playful element is there - it needs to be there - but there are other aspects."

Zoe Whitley '01 studied art history and design at Swarthmore and earned her M.A. at the Royal College of Art in London. "The Shadows Took Shape," which runs through March 9, was also reviewed in The New York Times.

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