Iowa City Center for Afrofuturist Studies builds African-American Myth

Isaac Hamlet, Iowa City Press-Citizen
Published 3:07 p.m. CT July 15, 2020


Iowa City’s Center for Afrofuturist Studies — a part of Public Space One — has launched a new online platform. Through this new site, dedicated specifically to CAS and its functions, the center can not only showcase new creations to those still stuck at home in the midst of this global pandemic but also enable that work to be viewed by people across the globe.

“It was something that we started almost a year ago,” An Duplan, the CAS curator and founder, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen. “The timing of it has allowed us to respond to the pandemic, in a way.”

For those unfamiliar with CAS, the organization was founded in 2016 by Duplan to populate a space with artists of color and engage the community with what they produce — work “that reimagines the futures of marginalized people,” as is the conceit of Afrofuturism, as a genre.

“It values the imagination of the people in the African continent and of African descent and it values the role that imagination has had for humanity,” author Ytasha Womack told the Press-Citizen last year in her explanation of the genre. “It encourages a positive visioning … particularly with the experiences African-Americans have had in recent world history.”

Antoine Williams portrait (Photo: Courtesy of the Center for Afrofuturist Studies)

Typically, CAS has artists in residence come to town to create a new display, locally. Such was the plan for Antoine Williams — to come to Iowa City to create a set of murals — before it became evident concerns regarding the novel coronavirus would persist as long as they have.

In addition to the unabating global pandemic, PS1 has yet to fully get its buildings up to code and open the spaces. While this would have made Williams’ murals tenable for attendance, it means that Iowa City citizens can expect more unconventional programming from the nonprofit in the remainder of the year according to John Engelbrecht, the director of PS1.

“We are making plans with artists to do alternative gallery exhibitions for the fall, which may include anything from outdoor exhibits to ‘appointment only’ exhibits to small-scale (one social pod only) events to virtual ones,” Engelbrecht explained in an email.

► More: Public Space One prepares a virtual Media Arts Co-op launch for Sunday

Thankfully, Williams had an alternate plan taking root in his mind that ended up being a fascinating fit for the new digital format.

“I created this sort of foundation for this narrative,” Williams said. “I’m hoping to engage Black artists and creatives and writers to pick up this story, make artwork and build up this mythos — and all this exists online to create this digital Black folklore.”

The basis of this folklore was brewed from Williams’ contemplation of the Wilmington Massacre.

“Falami, mythic being of equity,” from Antoine Williams’ Black Fusionist Society project. (Photo: Courtesy of the Center for Afrofuturist Studies)

The massacre commenced on Nov. 10, 1898, in the town of Wilmington, North Carolina — a majority Black community terrorized by a white mob. The 400 marching with the mob burned down the town’s Black-owned newspaper, The Daily Record.

The mob then overthrew the local government while terrorizing the town, leaving dozens dead and installing white supremacists in positions of leadership. It is the only successful coup d’etat staged under the U.S. government in the nation’s history.

“That set the stage for policy to set-up the Jim Crow south,” said Williams, who’s native to North Carolina himself.

Williams’ myth-making starts when he imagines Black women and children escaping to a nearby graveyard.

“It takes five of those women, and they gather 11 children and they find a small unnamed town,” Williams said. “They create their own society called The Black Fusionist Society.”

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Incubated by this imagined hamlet, Williams pictures the founding mothers of The Black Fusionist Society (who themselves hope to travel to a world where Black people are seen as people) creating a belief system consisting of 10 “vibes,” each of which has a mythic being embodying that respective idea.

The beings embodying the Vibes range from the Falami the benevolent mythic beings of Equity, which empathic entities defined by dedication to equity — to Tuma, an indifferent mythic being of History & Progress, a single entity that appears at three people at different stages in life, endlessly aging, dying and being born.

Williams has developed the ideas behind these figures and, though he plans to feed this mythology with stories of his own, his wider hope is to make an online community — an internet-age folklore where people share and create work encapsulating the perspective of the Black community beyond what he alone could achieve.

“I would like to see this sort of take on a life of its own,” he said. “I would love to do that through a series of Black Fusionist gatherings where people get together and talk about ideas around this and share artwork.”

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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