Heroes and Villains an introduction to work being created for an exhibition at Jack House Gallery, Portsmouth September 2019 by artist Peter Lloyd

Conspicuous by their absence, Afrofuturism asks us to visualise a future populated by the ideas, influences and presence of a black community; its ideas and its inventions. Primarily this can be visualized through science fiction in any form of creative output; music, writing, painting, poetry, fashion, comic books, film… anything. One definition of Afrofuturism is, 'the re-imagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens.’[1] A strange definition/request when you consider the significant contribution already made to these areas past and present by the black community. So you have to ask yourself the question, why is their presence not prevalent as a matter of course in depictions of the future?

 The term, ‘Afrofuturism’ was coined over a quarter of a century ago by the white US author Mark Derry in his essay “Black to the Future”. Derry’s essay hinged around a series of interviews he conducted with black content creators and looked at speculative fiction within the African diaspora; A white privileged male telling black peoples stories and then advising them on how they should see their future… Does that sit right with you? Examples of black achievement and events (good or bad) being written out of history are rife; the print ‘The Tulsa Beast’ is based on just one such event,[2] so why wouldn’t we be conscious of this when constructing our future view? Why would the black community not insist upon inclusion? Be proactive about inclusion? Why did it need a white privileged male academic to signpost the need? Why did we listen to him? Privilege? Was he afforded the time, space and platform to consider and make ‘legitimate’ comment? Or are we just easily led and susceptible to being ever so gently brainwashed? There are more questions than answers, Jonny Nash was right about that one.[3]

 I first seriously considered Afrofuturism and issues relating to the black identity in 2017 during preparations for an exhibition curated by Kate Maple at the Solent Showcase Gallery in Southampton. 'Black to the Future: A Discussion of the Arts Through a Black Cultural Lens’[4] took place in 2018 and, using the exhibition of Afrofuturist related works as a starting point, provided a unique platform in the city for a whole range of open and discursive events to take place. This incredible series of events allowed me to begin to understand the movement, to hear other individuals perceptions of the movement, to see how they connected to it and for me to to try and understand, slowly, how I might connect to it through my work as an artist. As a printmaker I have always admired the graphic immediacy and accessibility of the propaganda created between 1967-80 by the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas; not a simple task when you consider the weight of the content and messages he was visually communicating. I relate to and have always enjoyed popular culture; science fiction, fantasy, comics, films, animations, badges, t shirts, TV programmes and music. I am married to a first generation black woman of Jamaican heritage and have two beautiful children who identified in their earlier years as being 50% British, 50% Jamaican and 50% Liverpudlian (I am from Liverpool); it doesn’t get much more mixed race than that. So, though a white privileged male myself, I do feel connected and I do feel invested.

 Deeper consideration of the movement provided me with a framework to reconsidered and examine key personal events involving my family and it was this re-examination, and the subsequent realisation, that ultimately called me to action. One key event was witnessing the incredible, empowering effect a routine visit to the local cinema, to see Black Panther, had on the family. Another enjoyable action movie for me, an affirming, optimistic, enabling and confidence building event for my wife and children; one of those fantastic moments in life when you realise the ordinary has suddenly become ‘extra’ordinary. For the first time they had seen a film with a full cast of black actors, unflawed, leading the way, super hero’s no less! In full control of not only their own futures, but the future of the world and everybody that populated it. And guess what? They could completely relate to it, revel in it and, for the first time in a cinema… imagine themselves being able to do exactly the same thing. For my family and, judging by the public and industry response to the film, this was more than a super hero movie, it was an inspirational experience that allowed people to project, reconsider and reposition themselves. Not being able to pre-empt the response of the people I am closest to on the planet made me seriously check myself. There was something here that I hadn’t ‘got’, there was something here that I truly needed to get under the skin of. Another key instigator was an insensitive and misguided decision, which had been taken at my daughters School regarding her new corn rows; fashion statement or cultural right? Well, neither at the time of having them done, because for us the decision was a completely functional one. My wife and I had organised a business trip to China, the friends who had agreed to care for our children during the trip had no previous experience of maintaining afro hair and my daughter was too young to maintain it herself. So, as a matter of practicality we arranged for her hair to braided, removing any need for fret, worry or drama… or so we thought. The School deemed the hairstyle to be a ‘fashion statement’, contrary to their policy and withdrew the child from lessons; imagine receiving that phone call when you’re 6,000 miles away from your baby. This was a troubling event, which drew us into a world of diversity policies, dual perceptions and differences of opinion. We were transported to an uncomfortable dimension, we were in a live episode of the Dreaded Twilight Zone or the Truly Black Mirror; where liberals revealed conservative tendency’s, where lefties slowly shuffled right and where teachers needed to be taught. It was this traumatic event that led to the print ‘Corn Row’ (‘Row’ as in a quarrel, not row as in a number of things in a more or less straight lines; that it certainly was not).

 My previous body of work dealt with the ‘Lucha Libre’ phenomena and treated the Mexican masked wrestler persona/costume as a model for me to project my own personal concerns and observations onto. I dealt with the personal, the kitsch and even the banal at times; a gloriously self indulgent body of work, good times. This new body of work takes a similar approach but sees me looking out rather than in, still brightly coloured and accessible, this body of work deals with some difficult issues and events, it can be accessed at a much more serious level than the wrestlers, but only at the viewers pace; the work is ready when you are. The Mexican Luchadors borrowed a lot their wardrobe ideas from the super hero genre, so graduating to the world of the comic book feels like a very natural progression for me.

 These works relate to perceptions of identity; self perception, the perceived, the observed and the understood. I want to present aspirational, iconic figures that underpin and inspire positive affirmations of the black self; If you can see it, you can be it. This body of work is about making sure that there is something there to see in the first place.

Peter Lloyd 11th February 2019

[1] What the Heck is Afrofuturism? Jamie Broadnax, The HuffPost, 16/02/2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-broadnax-afrofuturism-black-panther_us_5a85f1b9e4b004fc31903b95

[2] The Tulsa Race Riot took place in Oklahoma, USA in 1921. It is considered to be one of the worst incidents of violence in the history of the United States; 300 African Americans killed, with 10,000 black people left homeless. Attacks were carried out by ground and air destroying 35 blocks of what was considered to be the wealthiest black community in the USA at that time. Two days of rioting resulted in property damage of $1.5 million, and $750,000 in personal property ($32 million in 2019, the equivalent of £29 million). Despite the scale of the event The riot was largely omitted from local, state, as well as national, histories. 75 years later a bi-partisan group authourised the formation of a commission to study the Tulsa riots. The Commission's final report, published in 2001, confirmed that the city had conspired with the mob of white citizens against black citizens. In 2010 (89 years later) a memorial park was dedicated in the city to the victims of the Tulsa Riot.

[3] There Are More Questions Than Answers, Jonny Nash, From the studio album; I can See Clearly Now, Epic, 21/07/1972

[4]Black to the Future, Exhibition, Solent Showcase Gallery, Southampton, UK, 12/10/2018-08/12/2018 https://www.solent.ac.uk/showcase/past-exhibitions