Ekow Eshun’s journey into Black artistic consciousness
The writer and curator expounds on his celebrated exhibition’s thesis: that reimagining Black space and time with the fantastical invites a new way of being in the world.
As a self-professed daydreamer who is deeply invested in Afrofuturism, sci-fi, the arts, and Black spiritualities, I commend In the Black Fantastic as an essential read. In it, Ekow Eshun invites the reader to embark on a journey exploring Black artistic consciousness. Coming in at just over 300 pages with stunning art images throughout, this bound volume captures the essence of Eshun’s celebrated exhibition of the same title from last summer.
The book is made up of works by artists of the African diaspora that interrogate norms and subvert Western White dichotomies of real/unreal, scientific/unscientific, and natural/supernatural to uncover racial injustice. Rather than attempting to recapitulate the exhibition, In the Black Fantastic stands alone as a form of critical scholarship that expounds on the exhibition’s thesis: that reimagining Black space and time with the fantastical invites a new way of being in the world, one that upends the myths that fuel anti-Black violence.
What exactly is “the Black fantastic”? you might ask. Is it a genre, a form of critical theory, a political stance, or something altogether different? Eshun addresses this question in the introduction, setting the stage for the essays and images that follow. The Black fantastic, he explains, is a way of seeing that draws from history, myth, and African spiritualities to conjure new visions of African diasporic culture and identity. While magical realism and Afrofuturism can fall into tropes, the Black fantastic builds upon the necessary work of those genres to present a liberatory way of constructing the world anew.