I’m one of those people who really enjoy long train journeys. My favourite kind are the ones that are just long enough for you to go to sleep, but still be travelling when you wake up.
The journey from Birmingham to Liverpool is just long enough to fit a daydream and a nap or two with time to appreciate the passing landscape besides. As I looked out of the window, anticipating the weekend ahead, sometimes I’d find myself wondering how much change the future would bring, how different the landscape would look in 20, 50 or 100 years time. What industries would return, what new cities will be born?
Liverpool has always been a place to go for inspiration. As well as it’s cultural heritage, as an afrofuturist it’s a particularly suited for thinking about the intersections of race, tech, history and identity. To be invited by Writing on the Wall to host a day of afrofuturist discussion, being in the midst of this cultural dialogue, was such an exciting prospect but also daunting. Still, we wanted to bring something a little different to Liverpool and we just had to trust that people would have a good time with us.
Together we made Future|Journeys a day of uplifting ideas, revolutionary dialogue and amazing music, starting out with the panel on Afrofuturism, which featured the artists Nikky Norton Shafa and Christopher Lutterodt-Quarcoo, the designer turned curator Jon Daniels and the incomparable Ytasha Womack. The panel served as an open space for quite intense discussion as well as providing a really good introduction to the themes of the day: how we can reconcile and transform our pasts in our communal journey to the future.
I am tired of [slavery]… what I find more interesting is that there are technologies which existed thousands of years ago that were more advanced than what we have today.
There was so much to unpack that we inevitably ran out of time but, throughout the day, kept returning to the central idea that race can be seen as a kind of technology when thinking about the history of society, tech and the black identity. The future cannot happen without the past, a truth that makes the afrofuturist way – drawing on, combining and remixing the past cultures of African and black diasporas to create a new way of living – all the more vital.
If you start off wrong, you will end up wrong, and that’s why things are wrong now: because the story’s wrong…
From these first steps, we headed to new spaces, with coding and Arduino workshops led by Ikem Nzeribe and James Medd; Nikky’s Storybook workshop took us on two parallel journeys, both through the self and the local area; Jon Daniels gave a talk on his journey to creating the amazing exhibition Afro Supa Hero, inspired by his black super heroes growing up, from saints to boxers, astronauts to musicians.
Christopher gave a really fascinating presentation on his research done through the ‘20 and Odd project‘, a project which examined the impact of slavery and oppression on the black psyche several through workshops. I think the question of “If I could get rid of the inherited memories of oppression would I?” is often unspoken and can be very provocative for anyone involved in social justice, particularly if, like me, you recognise that sometimes healing won’t always come through justice. Is there a strange sort of power in being able to see and critique society for what it really is – but can it really be called a power if it comes as a result of oppression? Certainly for me, it helped to re-realise how important it is to harness our communal and genetic experiences to look forward rather than stay in the present if we’re to avoid the trap of despair and cynicism.
Events like these are really brilliant for meeting amazing people who are all bringing something new and unique to the table. As always, I found myself learning so much and really enjoying myself with excellent food courtesy of ItalFresh (seriously, go forth and eat their plantain: it is officially ‘godly’!) and magnificent company. It is always invigorating to meet and talk and taking the steps we need to transform ourselves.
Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the event, from the volunteers working on social media and assisting with spare power sources, to the wonderful participants who made the event one of transformation. Special thanks also to Writing on the Wall Festival for inviting us to co-host the day with them. We had a great time and – as ever – look forward to more in the future!