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Afrofuturist Museum Mines Artifacts from the Future

“So often black people are left out of design future thinking,” says Iyapo Repository's Salome Asega.

What does it mean to understand a culture through its artifacts? Is the guiding question behind artists Salome Asega and Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde’s Iyapo Repository. The Iyapo Repository is a museum designed to mine a collection of digital and physical artifacts that affirm and project the futures of people of African descent. Now on display in their Eyebeam exhibition, To Scale, are Asega and Okunseinde's first four artifacts, created from crowd-sourced manuscripts. The Afrofuturist works rely heavily on technology and present a myriad of representations of what blackness could come to mean in both the near and the distant future.

Artifact:012, Iyapo Repository (c) Eyebeam Magali Duzant

"The genesis of [the Iyapo Repository] was, how do we create our future through artifacts?” Explains Okunseinde to The Creators Project. "When we started the Iyapo Repository, Salome and I decided to generate these artifacts from the ground up. As opposed to artists generating them, we wanted to have a community of people that are invested to create these artifacts.” Asega and Okunseinde created a game that asked participants to create drawings of future artifacts using cards to help guide their visions. Says Asega, "I think we all have these moments when we are hanging out with friends where we are like, 'That's so future!' And so this is our way of trying to collect those 'so future' moments and bring them to life."

In To Scale, the artifacts on display address current concerns and forward thinking possibilities of the black community. Artifact:012 is a suit that has a series of tubes that pump water from the Atlantic Ocean around its arms and legs. The suit also features motors at the shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles that are synced to vibrate to the Atlantic Ocean’s tidal patterns. The suit is meant to evoke the history of diseases that plague black communities and the trauma of the transatlantic slave trade. Artifact:025 is a GPS necklace that vibrates as a way to alert its owners when they are at the cross-streets of a police involved shooting in New York City, part a futuristic reminder that black lives matter. Artifact:046 are “Rock & Roll Afromation” pills featuring OLED screens that display each pill prescription label. The pills are designed, according to Asega, to “give you specialized black history lessons” on “everyone from Sister Rossetta Tharpe to Prince.”

Manuscripts, Iyapo Repository, (c) Eyebeam Magali Duzant

Artifact: 046 Manuscript, courtesy of Iyapo Repository

The Iyapo Repository is named after the protagonist, Lilth Iyapo, of science fiction novelist Octavia Butler’s Lilith Brood trilogy. In Butler’s first novel in the series, Dawn, Iyapo wakes up after 250 years on a ship orbiting an uninhabitable Earth. She is one of the few humans, black and female, to have survived a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union. The book centers on Iyapo’s desire to remain black, female, and alive as a testament to humanity. The Iyapo Repository is a way for black people living today to imagine what it will mean to be black in the future. The artists see the manuscripts as a way to tell Black histories to future generations. Iyapo Repository can also be a way to create fantastic new narratives about blackness—stories unbound by current realities.

Artifact:012 Manuscript, courtesy of Iyapo Repository

Asega and Okunseinde say that their museum is also a reaction to current renderings of future worlds in popular culture that exclude black people. “So often black people are left out of design future thinking,” Asega explains. “We don't really know what the future is going to look like but here are some varying options of things that might happen in an utopian or dystopian future.” Adds Okunseinde, “What we wanted to create was a space to contemplate what is our future 1,000 years from now, and generate artifacts from that future that can be used as a trajectory to that future. This is a chance to communally develop a future, [as] opposed to having it defined for us.”

Installation View: To Scale. (c) Eyebeam Magali Duzant  

To Scale continues through May 26 at Eyebeam. For more information, click here.

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