Pomona Afrofuturist Exhibit Explores Race, Diaspora, Vertigo

Peter J. Harris held the crowd through his rhythmic reading of three poems, featuring Gospel music-drinking vampires and exploring the question, “What is a happy black man?”

Harris was one of the artists featured at the reception for the Feb. 25 opening of the “Vertigo@Midnight: New Visual AfroFuturisms & Speculative Migrations” art exhibit. A group of artists,
students and enthusiasts came to explore the concepts of Afrofuturism and vertigo through
visual art at Scripps College’s Clark Humanities Museum.

The exhibit incorporates the idea of trauma, displacement and dispersal that the African diaspora has experienced through the slave trade. 

“Being uprooted and dislocated—and culturally disrupted and traumatized—that’s one version of vertigo,” said curator Valorie Thomas, who is also an associate professor of English at Pomona College.

Afrofuturism places black subjects into the picture to challenge the belief that technology, science and the space age are antithetical to black minds, as Thomas explained in an email to TSL.  All the while, the movement promotes African philosophy, spiritual knowledge and connections to nature.

“The Afrofuturism point of view, for me, is one that acknowledges race and racism as political, social and material realities, but, at the same time, is seeking to displace race as a central preoccupation of every narrative,” Thomas said.

The exhibition combines these two principles, Afrofuturism and vertigo, and occupies an inclusive place that features all colors, emotions and medias. Walking through the exhibit is a whirlwind of experiences as each piece aims to call forth a distinct set of emotions—all of which calling out to redefinition and self-determination.

The reception for the exhibit featured a host of creative
performances that primed the audience to receive the pieces in an
Afrofuturist lens and examine them in terms of the black experience. An
excerpt from Catherine Frost’s PO’15’s play, Blue
Heartbeats
, which examines the often ignored disappearance of black women,
kicked off the night and captured the audience in an honest narrative of one
girl’s disappearance and her memories.

Los Angeles-based
Afrofuturist writer and performer from Harlem, Kima Jones, finished the
performances with her artful fictional piece of a hotel standoff
that discovers what it would look like if racism took the form of a monster—a
real monster that could be seen, identified, and fought.

Several students were also involved with the reception. Some of Thomas’s
students banded together to create a magazine for the event that functioned like a
catalog—a surprise for Thomas.

“To
me, that is part of the art exhibition,” she said. “They are putting their art in it, and
that means everything for me.” 

David Huffman, one of the artists featured in the exhibit, paints canvases that
uniquely encompass the experiences of minorities in America using the concepts of space and cosmos. His black astronauts, or “Traumabots,” symbolize
an identity search through unfamiliar environments both externally and
internally. His work explores galaxies and features toys and other popular symbols.

Artist Jessica Wimbley’s works layer traditional images atop one another against a galaxy background. The warm tones and smooth edges of each component create a sense of blurring as her work investigates questions of identity, history and, as she describes, “a merging [of] both the genetic and biological with [the] socio-cultural, creating narratives that shift between micro and macro representations.”

Karen Hampton, another artist in the exhibit, was inspired by her graduate work researching the domination of cotton in the South and plantation weaving. Hampton experienced the effects of vertigo during her research, and she ended up producing two pieces currently on
display, “Washer Woman” and “Mistress,” that, together, are the matriarchs of her work in the field.

“It
was the process of me really discovering what this historical truth was,” she
said. “I was inserting a
space in American history … It had been written without these
[weaving] women in it, and I was parting the curtain and letting them in.”     

The exhibit will
run from Feb. 23 through Mar. 6 at Clark Humanities Museum and at the Chan Gallery in the Studio Art Hall at Pomona College.

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