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Redefine What It Means To Be Free Part 2

Redefine What It Means To Be Free Part 2

Last month BGN highlighted the nomadic Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) in an article entitled Redefine What It Means To Be Free. Later we shared a con report of #BSAMPhilly with loads of links for folks looking to #BuyBlack this holiday season (and beyond). We wrap up our coverage of this unique event with a profile on the founders, Maia “Crown” Williams and Dr. Reynaldo Anderson. Together they tell a story of art, study, and collaboration that lead to world building and growth.

First up is Williams, founder of Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (MECCAcon) out of Detroit. She is an event planner, entrepreneur, and creator of vast artistic networks.

You’ve mentioned in the past that 1 of the purposes of MECCAcon was to highlight the vibrant artist community in Detroit amidst all the gentrification; what was your drive to take this type of show on the road?

MECCAcon’s main purpose is to introduce people to the black, Indigenous, “POC”  indie comics community, which is abundant. Black indie comics get heavily slept on at times, and not nationally and globally recognized like mainstream comics do. The difference between mainstream and indie is that the indie creator literally has to do all the funding, creating, marketing, and product placement, many times with little to no help.

In Detroit, gentrification is a very serious thing. As long as I’m able, I will do all in my power to fight it. I sometimes feel misplaced and unwelcome. The art scene is being whited out at a rapid speed. Luckily, there are still artists such as Sabrina Nelson , Sydney James, Tylonn Sawyer, Clifton Jamaal Perry, and many more who are fighting for their [voices] to be heard.

How did all of your partners come together to form the BSAM? What is the future of the Movement as far as you’re concerned?

Dr. Reynaldo Anderson contacted me around January, after the Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem. He believed that him and I could turn the Black Speculative Arts Movement into a convention. I was shocked, yet excited. For this brotha who barely knew me, to tell me (the notorious loudmouth) that he believed in me was a moment I will always remember. I found an artist to do our logo, Aaron “Visual Goodies” Sutton, who specializes in Afrofuturistic and psychedelic artwork.  I then found artists N Steven Harris and Will Focus to do our official flyer art. Both have done many pieces for me in the past.

Dr Anderson and I hit the ground running. Within a week or so, we had panels, lectures, vendors, and of course, my already established  MECCAcon International Film Festival, registered under Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY (formerly AFFRM).

BSAM will be in the future because we ARE the future. We also have many events lined up, every month all the way til June 2017. From New York to Israel, Texas to Barbados, Brooklyn to the Bronx, Nova Scotia to California, we are movin’ and groovin’.

This can be a bit of a controversial topic, but I have to ask: You do not shy away from using Kemetic iconography such as the ankh along with other Pan-African symbols in your branding. You are also intentional about being welcoming to the LGBT community and of course respectful toward women; how important do you think it is for those of us who are in the culture to reclaim words like “hotep” and symbols like the ankh from being misused by those who: wear the symbols and speak anything but peacefully AND those who use these cultural markers as a brand for all things misogynistic and homophobic?

My culture is my structure and my foundation.  My culture has and ALWAYS will be in every last thing my name is stamped on. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m unapologetic a.f. about who I am, my blackity black black blackness, so to speak.

As far as reclaiming our original Kemetic/Voodou/Asiatic/Moorish terminology, that’s another discussion for another day. I’m VERY sensitive when it comes to African Spirituality, and I don’t take the bashing too lightly,  nor should I. When it comes to the LGBT community, I’ve never in the 6 year history of me doing comic cons, etc, excluded them. …. For WHAT? Is your spirit good, or naw? That’s my answer on that.

Maia kicking it with Philly’s own, Len and Kennedy of The Black Tribbles.


Next we have Dr. Reynaldo Anderson who is currently serving as an Associate Professor of Communications at Harris-Stowe State University in Saint Louis, MO.  Reynaldo publishes research in regard to several dimensions of the African Diaspora including Afrofuturism, Rhetoric, Africana Womanism, globalization and more.


When did you first realize that Afrofuturism was something you wanted to study and help propagate in the culture?

In the late 1990s I was a Doctoral student in communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I had privately theorized with friends a relationship between cyberspace, postmodernity, race and time. However, I was consumed with wrapping up my dissertation on the Black Panther Party. Several years ago after the 2008 economic crash and the growing influence of social media, I revisited some of my graduate school notes on social movements and communication theory and decided to revisit Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism as a field of study was not active several years ago and I called an old college classmate John Jennings, the visual artist, about taking our ideas on Afrofuturism, critical theory, and visual art to present at an international conference in Paris. After our return, we developed the ideas that would become the curated exhibition “Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination at the Schomburg in Harlem, New York …. I  later edited an anthology that was called Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness and its companion volume to be released in the Spring of 2017 called The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Afrofuturism, Art+Design.


What is the BSAM origin story?

During the fall of 2015, a year after the Ferguson unrest, I was invited to participate  in a conference called “Ferguson is the Future” at Princeton University organized by Ruha Benjamin. I was eager to participate because In the aftermath of the Ferguson unrest, I witnessed the inadequate intellectual and political responses to the actions of the local Black youth who were the heartbeat of the rebellion. [I] realized the politics and ideas that were promoted were largely developed between 1965 and 1995 and were inadequate to the needs of today. So, during the Princeton meeting in one of our breakout sessions, I announced I wanted to build a network around new speculative ideas that were connected to local communities.
I thought more about how to develop the network and flew to Manchester, England for the 2015 Afrofutures_UK conference developed by Ifeome Okoye, where I met the science fiction writer Peter Kalu  Musicologist Erik Steinskog, and other European writers interested in Afrofuturism. During this time John Jennings, via a FB conversation, coined the term “Black Speculative Arts Movement.
I wrote and published online an excerpt of the manifesto for the movement; Afrofuturism 2.0 and The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Notes on a Manifesto.  Yet, I knew I needed to partner with someone to grow the network. I reached out to Maia Williams, founder of MECCA-Con, whom I had met at the end of our exhibition at the Schomburg during the Black Comics festival. I asked her to help me launch BSAM at my university, Harris-Stowe State in Saint Louis this Spring. We have been rolling along since, well on our way to becoming an international network of futuristic, creative, speculative artists and scholars.
Who are some foundational or perhaps little-known artists/thinkers who you feel everyone interested in Afrofuturism/astro-Blackness should know?
Some important thinkers and artists you need to keep your eye on and who I rely on for advice around Afrofuturism are people like:
  • Rev. Andrew Rollins in the area of religious studies, whom I consider a mentor
  • Tobias Van Veen, with whom I am co-editing a special edition of the journal TOPIA which will come out in the Spring of 2017 with some of the best contemporary work on Afrofuturism and the Black Speculative Arts Movement
  • Lonny Avi Brooks with his background working with Silicon Valley think tanks
  • Philly’s own Rasheeda Phillips in the area of metaphysics and community activism
  • Tiffany Barber in the area of art criticism
  • Damion Scott in philosophy
  • Nettrice Gaskins in the area of digital science
  • Erik Steinskog of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Ifeoma Okoye in England

The visual artists:

  • Mshindo Kuumba
  • Tim Fielder
  • N. Steven Harris
  • John Jennings
  • Will Focus
  • Stacey Robinson

Keep your eye on the growing BSAM collective out of Toronto, Canada with Quentin Vercetty and Reeni Odd as they promote the ideas north of the border.


Lastly, what speculative fictional world would you love to live in and why?

Maia Williams: Ooh, chile. You asked me this on the day America elected  Donald Trump to be y’all president… so right NOW? I would most definitely be a fly on the wall in the comic book series BLACK by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph from Black Mask Studios.

Dr. Anderson: My interest at this time overlap between fantasy and science fiction. …I would like to have the powers of the Night Lord god in N.K. Jemison’s The Inheritance Trilogy and in Sci-Fi, Ptolemy Bent or Dr. Kismet of Walter Moseley’s book Futureland.
To follow the adventures of these two Afrofuturists:
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