In recent years, we’ve seen a zeitgeist-defining explosion of sight and sound, literature, art, and film revolving around the concepts of Afrofuturism penetrate pop culture. Afrofuturism, a genre spurred several decades ago by Black speculative and sci-fi artists such as Octavia Butler and Sun Ra and permeating Black diaspora art movements, uses tropes of science fiction to center and empower people of African descent. With recent entries like the film Black Panther and the television series Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, Black voices in speculative fiction and art are experiencing a universal embrace.
At the forefront of this movement is North Philadelphia artist and activist collective Black Quantum Futurism, a duo that consists of housing justice advocate, artist, writer, and quantum time travel enthusiast Rasheedah Phillips, and her partner, musician, and poet Camae Ayewa, whose work as Moor Mother has received accolades from Pitchfork, WIRE Magazine, and Bandcamp. As the duo, the two-woman crew uses the ideas of quantum physics as a representation of the cyclical timelessness of the Black experience—their art, workshops, installations, stage plays, and collectively made music uses science to explore the past, present, and future of Blackness in wholly thrilling and liberating ways.
Permission to speculate
Black Quantum Futurism has won prestigious awards and residencies, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2021 Knight Arts and Tech Fellowship. Most recently, they were awarded an Arts at CERN residency wherein BQF will be obliged to create art at the large hadron collider in Geneva, Switzerland. These awards are a part of a continued stream of recent successes whose roots are tethered to the duo’s explorations into Afrofuturism over the past decade.
“My activism came before I considered myself an artist,” Phillips says. “I’ve been a creative person all of my life, but I didn’t really give myself permission to be a creative person for a long time. Primarily, trying to finish law school and raise my kid—just didn’t identify myself as that.”
Phillips spent time involved in housing advocacy and fighting for young parents’ rights. Around the same time, she fell into Afrofuturism, identifying herself as part of the Black sci-fi community. “I was always very interested in thinking about how Afrofuturism lends itself to the work I was doing.” She contemplated what Afrofuturism meant for the people she was serving, especially for those who were at risk of losing their housing. She wants them to be able to think about a more expanded future, not just their crises.
Accessing your identity
Another large part of BQF’s work includes exploring Black spatial continuity, dismantling the Western notion of time as a linear occurrence, and unearthing Black contributions to both science fiction and scientific practice. “Historically, we’ve been very much erased,” Phillips relates when asked about the impact and importance of Afrofuturism. “For me, in my immediate community, I didn’t know Black lawyers, or scientists, or doctors, and that really limited what I thought was possible for myself. Now we have the internet and have more access, but it's profound for me to think about my journey and what I didn’t have access to and how that limited my own possibilities, my own identity.”
It’s a journey that has taken Phillips from uncertainty to being able to work near, create for, and be inspired by the world’s largest hadron collider. This system of machines works to explain concepts like “what is dark matter and where does it come from”, among other uses. With their penchant for exploring non-linear concepts of time and space, Black Quantum Futurism’s CERN residency is a perfect nexus for collaboration. “It looks like we're going to have full access, hanging out with the hadron collider underground,” Phillips says. “I don’t know that they’ve ever had Afrofuturists there, but I’d like to think they are opening up themselves to a new experience by bringing in Black queer women from America who make work specifically about Black folks and Black time and explores these constructs of science, time and space and try to undo them...I’m really excited to put that BQF lens specifically to that.”
What, When, Where, and Accessibility:
Experience Black Quantum Futurism's work online.
Image Description: Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa stand together, hand in hand, facing the camera for a portrait together, against a white brick wall.