Themes/ Trends: Afrofuturism in Design

Cultural and Historical Studies tutor and founder of the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora (CIAD) Teleica, defines Afrofuturism and introduces a series of creatives that place this philosophy at the heart of their work.

Afrofuturism is a philosophy that looks at the realms of technology, science fiction, aesthetics, mythology and metaphysics of African and African diaspora culture and spirituality. It puts people of African heritage into narratives where they wouldn’t normally feature.

What sets Afrofuturism apart from any other science fiction is the heavy reference of historical African ephemera to develop and enhance the aesthetics and the way these elements are used with modern and futuristic styling. This combined with an interest in outer space and technological advancement along with the use of unusual shapes and colours in clothing and accessories enables any imagery within this genre to be immediately identified as Afrofuturistic. Artist and visionary Sun Ra – who was active from the mid 1950s until his death – used recreations of ancient Egyptian material culture to develop his persona and artistry and was considered the pioneer of of Afrofuturism. With the advent of disco and the use of metallic fabrics and colour ways in fashion design and styling, it became a defining moment when other music bands like Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic and Labelle developed an Afrofuturistic outlook. Today musicians such as Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, FKA Twigs and Ibeyi to name a few, all adopt an Afrofuturistic look to their styling and video visuals. Below are a few other artists who represent an Afrofuturistic outlook in their work.

Feature image credit: ‘Ilgelunot’ by Osborne Macharia.

Fashion – AphiaSakyi

A gif of the various Aphiasakyi accessories worn by women of African descent.

Credit: @keelsonstudio_ for Aphiasakyi

Based in Ghana, accessories brand Aphiasakyi uses beading and fabric to create incredibly intricate body accessories which are occasionally reminiscent of armour. Each design is a statement piece that really requires the wearer to provide as muted a clothing palette as possible so the accessory may speak for itself. The design of each piece lends itself to afro futurist styling as the use of avant-garde shapes and materials places them in a future focussed and setting where they would not be out of place in any science fiction based environment. In true Afro futuristic style Aphiasakyi has drawn on historically references to design accessories that are simultaneously fashion forward and nostalgic. 

To see more designs, head over to the website or follow the brand on Instagram: @aphiasakyi

Cosplay/ Performance – UniverSouls

A gif of a cosplay movie poster resembling the Fantasy/ Sci-Fi genre.

Credit: Photography by Christin Bela.

Borelson (B4) and Binta Talla are a collaborative duo from Canada and France/Senegal who have put together the UniverSouls project; a science fiction, fantasy and anime influenced project which follows the journey of Emanon X as he attempts to recover his memory and find out who he is. This collaboration between artists who have similar interests, along with their desire to redress the underrepresentation of black people in superhero roles sits strongly within the ethos of Afrofuturism culture and is how the UniverSouls project came to fruition. 

To find out more about UniverSouls follow them on Instagram: @universouls_project

Sculpture – Cyrus Kabiru

A portrait photo of a man of African descent looking into the camera, wearing oversized, futuristic glasses made out of metal

Credit: Cyrus Kabiru – ‘Kubwa Macho Nne Tom and Jerry’ (2015) Pigment Ink on HP Premium Satin Photographic Paper 150 x 150 cm Ed 1of 5 2AP. Copyright Cyrus Kabiru, image courtesy of SMAC Gallery.

Bridging the gap between art and fashion is Cyrus Kabiru who has been making wearable art out of the trash and discarded detritus he finds in Nairobi, Kenya where he resides. The use of waste materials in his work is very future focused and speaks to the futuristic dystopian premonitions that have been shown in films like Blade Runner and District 9.

Find more of Cyrus’ work on his Facebook page

Also listen to Cyrus talk about his work in our Video Pick feature

Photography – Osborne Macharia

Credit: ‘Ilgelunot’ by Osborne Macharia.
Should you ever need to put your hand on exactly what Afrofuturism would look like in all its forms then look no further than Osborne Macharia. Osborne is a commercial photographer creating expressively captivating brand imagery for advertising or storytelling around the world, with much of his work using a sumptuous polish to present both utopian and dystopian visions of Afrofuturism. Pulling on the traditions of Afrofuturism Osborne used historic and culturally specific references to develop futuristic styling and storytelling for the Ilgelunot/ Black Panther and Gikosh projects, a series of images which highlight his work as having particular resonance with the Afrofuturism aesthetic.

See more of Osborne’s work on his website or follow on Twitter: @osborneK63

Media and Communication – AfroFutures UK

Credit: AfroFutures UK.
The final selection in my pick is not exactly an artist or designer but more of a platform for Afrofuturism output in the UK. AfroFutures UK is a collective of artists, designers, writers and academics who develop conferences around Afrofuturism and publish articles on all things Afrofuturistic. The platform regularly features and publishes work by creatives across the world and you have an opportunity to be a member of their organisation.

Take a look at the platform for yourself or follow them on Twitter: @AfroFutures_UK

To find out more about the work CIAD do surrounding the African diaspora, head over to their website, or follow them on Instagram: @ciaduk

Have an interest in some of the disciplines mentioned?

Take a look at some of these courses:

BA (Hons) Creative Direction for Fashion

BA (Hons) Fashion Communication: Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins

Undergraduate Fashion Design courses across UAL

BA (Hons) Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion

BA (Hons) Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts

BA (Hons) Fine Art at Central Saint Martins

BA (Hons) Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts

BA (Hons) Illustration and Visual Media at London College of Communication

Close Bitnami banner