Non-aligned utopias as seen through African art

Photo courtesy of ARTS@TECH

Over the years, not only have the continents undergone changes geographically, but they have also undergone major economic, political, social and aesthetic transformations, molding the world and its culture. Specifically, the present niche of art culture has been heavily influenced by technology and science, allowing artists from continents such as Africa to rise to prominence. 

It is this rise of African art on a vast global scale that brought the Sengalese-French artist and curator Oulimata Gueye to Tech’s campus to participate in a round table discussion hosted by the French Club at Tech as well as the French department within the School of Modern Languages. 

The round table topics covered Non-Aligned Utopias and new technologies in Africa, a specialty of Gueye’s, and gave members of Emory University, Spelman College and Georgia State University’s community a chance to also participate.

Gueye’s work currently focuses on the impact of digital technology on urban popular culture and Africa. Her research is based on science fiction products like literature, film and video games which reveal the emergence of art from Africa as it enters into the global stage.

Prior to the round table discussion, Gueye hosted her own personal Q&A session in the Swann building on Oct. 8, giving Tech students the opportunity to learn more about her niche area of expertise and ask her any questions they might have about the topic.

Noting the unique role of science in art culture, Gueye discussed her personal interest in her specialized area of media and art in terms of its ability to blend the past with the future. 

“It is the science fiction genre that best reflects the interaction between the present and projections of the future,” said Gueye. “It bridges the past, present and the future.” 

In regards to the continent of Africa, Gueye emphasized how the upheaval the continent has faced over time has been heavily reflected in the science fiction genre. Gueye explained how works by African creators and artists exhibit the interactions between the continent’s present and future. 

“I use the world ‘sci-fi’, or science fiction as it emerged in Europe and in the United States because for me it is very rare that the artist and the writer use the term science fiction,” said Gueye. 

In fact, when Gueye was conducting her own research on the continent, she discovered that the storytellers of Africa almost always use science to tell stories, despite not explicitly using the phrase “science fiction.”

Gueye then went on to guide the audience through different examples of science fiction in African culture, projecting different works of art on the screen.

Works included literature, film and paintings. Some science fiction productions Gueye explored were short films like Neill Blomkamp’s “Tetra Vaal” (2004), “Les Saignantes” by Jean- Pierre Bekolo (2005) and “Pumzi” by Wanuei Kahiu (2009).

For those trying to dip their toes into the deep waters of science fiction, Gueye recommends the novel “Who Fears Death?” by Nnedi Okorafor as a good place to start. The novel explores magical realism through the story of a genocide that takes place in a post-apocalytpic Africa.

Gueye explained how science fiction products like this novel reveal how in the future — even though societies might change — the future is still linked to the past. 

Gueye exemplified how the futures found in science fiction are connected to the past in terms of  our present human behavior, such as continuing to execute genocides against minority groups. She also explained the value of these works of literature in terms of creating a national identity.

“If a continent wants to be its own force, it has to invent its own way of forming the future, science fiction could also be a useful tool for that,” said Gueye. 

Another notable feature of science fiction as used in Africa and Afro-futurism is the heavy presence of female protagonists, as pointed out by a member of the audience during the question session of the presentation. Gueye was unsure whether this is due to a purposeful movement by artists or if the media is simply focusing more attention on the works of young women and their portrayal in the media. 

Regardless of the intention, the effect of science fiction remains the same:  to bridge the gaps in society caused by time and to offer a measure of progress. Far more than a mere source of entertainment in today’s society, science fiction acts as a catalyst of change that enables an entire continent to enhance human expression in the midst of a rapidly evolving technological society.

Far more than a mere source of entertainment in today’s society, Gueye revealed that science fiction acts as a catalyst of change that enables an entire continent to enhance human expression in the midst of a rapidly evolving technological society.

The cultural services of the French embassy as well as other departments within Tech will come together again on Oct. 30 in the Student Center, where they will be putting on a concert that will focus on innovation within French music.