"Africa in The Matrix: STEAM, African Futurism & Myth
The Georgia Tech library just sent me Afro-Mythology And African Futurism: The Politics Of Imagining And Methodologies For Contemporary Creative Research Practices (2013) by African artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum. This was just minutes before I attended the kick-off event for Africa Atlanta 2014. I was reading it as I traveled to see Mapping Place: Africa Beyond Paper. One of the highlights of the event was the all-female ensemble Giwayen Mata.
Another highlight was seeing the finished interactive media table that re-calibrates the conception of place and memory incorporated into lukasa, an African art object that also displays fractal scaling and geometric designs. The lukasa—also known as a memory board—is a visual rendering of Luba history from Zaire. On one level it may be appreciated simply for its aesthetics. It is art. On another level it is a communication artifact. The interactive table allows museum visitors to produce collaborative narratives based on personal stories.
When I left the museum I continued reading the Sunstrum article and discovered some mind blowing things, including The ARPANET Dialogues. Sunstrum writes,
The ARPANET Dialogues provide a contemporary example of a sliding of mythology through time and into sf (science fiction). An ongoing serial project by Bassam El Baroni, Jeremy Beaudry, and Nav Haq, the Dialogues present an archive of imaginary conversations between a wide range of individuals within social, political, and cultural spheres. These conversations purportedly took place between 1975 and 1979, using an instant messaging application in a network of computers plugged into ARPANET, the U.S. Department of Defense’s experimental computer network and precursor to the Internet.
Sunstrum writes about S. James Gates Jr., an African American physicist who explains how research on a class of geometric symbols known as adinkras could lead to fresh insights into the theory of supersymmetry — and perhaps even the very nature of reality.
In an online interview, Uncovering the Codes for Reality, Gates Jr. says,
“We were led first to a graphical technology called adinkras – a word that comes from traditional West African languages – but we found these mathematical objects which sit inside of the equation with the property of supersymmetry. Then secondly, even more shocking for us, when we analyzed these objects very carefully we found out that they have attributes of ones and zeros in precisely the same way that computers use ones and zeroes to send digital information and, in particular, the kinds of codes we found was the most shocking thing for us. There’s a class of codes that allow your (web) browsers to work in an accurate way called error correcting codes. We found a role for error correcting codes that are in the equations of supersymmetry.”
Inspired by Gates Jr.’s theories, Sunstrum explored the connection between the adinkra and “contemporary ideas about the structure of time, space, and the universe.” Adinkra are called “nea onnim no sua a, ohu,” which translates as “s/he who does not know can become knowledgeable through learning.” This is a great entry point to STEM and how Art (STEAM) learning connects themes across disciplines. My plan is to explore these concepts on a more elementary level for middle school students who are learning transformational geometry. I will do this by introducing them to the mathematical designs in cultural artifacts such as African American (Afro-traditional) quilts. Many Afro-traditional quilts are encoded with symbols and messages. Like lukasa quilts are appreciated for their aesthetics and as communication tools.
This brings me full circle to the upcoming STEAM-related workshops for middle school students and professional artists who explore STEM concepts. One one side is my research of the nuances of techno-vernacular creativity or how artists and other creative people of color deeply explore cultural art and technology. Even American Indian artist/photographer Will Wilson explores how traditional Navajo (Diné) textiles can be embedded with QR codes to bring cultural narratives to people using mobile devices. Artist Sanford Biggers includes a QR code in his quilt, Vex, to link viewers to a music video for his concept band, Moon Medicine. Sanford has been repurposing 19th century and Afro-traditional quilts.
Gates Jr. speculates that with computers the language of mathematics and, therefore, the view physicists have on reality might become more accessible to more of us. He suggests this by way of analogy with music. His analogy can easily be linked to John Coltrane’s “tool” or diagram that can be used to plays his musical composition Giant Steps. Coltrane was inspired by Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Cultural and heritage crafts have been repurposed or remixed by artists such as Sanford Biggers, Robert Pruitt, Will Wilson and Xenobia Bailey. Sanford creates and applied symbols of his own based on music visualization and cultural artifacts. This method of construction is also linked to sampling in music.
“Sampling, in of itself, is an art form just to find sounds and make a complete collage out of what someone else did.” –Young Guru
And it doesn’t start or stop with music. Women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama took what they had (fabric) and created a new way to quilt based on collage. Romare Bearden, inspired by quilters in North Carolina, created collage works. The idea of remixing and mashups come from this cultural knowledge and aesthetic. This is the basis for teaching STEAM concepts to young people who need to learn this history and how valuable it is, so they can also feel valued/valuable.
This post came about from Africa Atlanta, a trip to the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum and an article I read while traveling there. Later, I made many more connections to past and current work and, as a result became knowledgeable through learning (like the adinkra saying).”
~via Musings of a Renegade Futurist