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It is by embracing the surreal, as a point of departure, that we actualize a world of-our-dreams in Africa and beyond. The rise of audiovisual and digital media has expanded African imaginaries and increased access to a spectrum of narratives. Across the African diaspora, artists and storytellers are harnessing these tools for introspection and history-making. A cyclical conception of time embedded in African tradition, is the fibre that often ties our ancient past to a seemingly distant future. Visually, it is what can make a classic hair threading style appear so futuristic, or African landscapes appear dream-like from a sentient gaze. 


Contemporary visual artists Edward Lobo, Jamal Ademola, and Curtis Essel engage with Africa’s past, present, and future through a surrealist or magical realist lens. Their works nurture transcontinental exchange, and engage the diaspora by highlighting ties across space and time. They invite the viewer to reflect not only on the stories, but on the materiality of digital media, its development and influence over time.


Despite this rich exploration, the Black and African experience has largely been framed as a ‘move away’ or response to the western world. African and Black art deserves discourse beyond reactionary status. In Wanuri Kahiu’s essay ‘Ancestors of the Future’ she rightfully asks: “assuming here that we are all equal, what is the western world reacting to? Are they reacting to us?… As artists, does our creative impetus derive from challenging the dominant narrative or like artists elsewhere are we driven by the sheer need to create?” 


In remembering non-linear time and transmission in Africa, a realm that these artists prompt us to return to, Wanuri’s words resonate: “We name our children (our future) by the names of our ancestors (our past), or after a special or distinct time (like time of day or month), or in a myriad of other ways that fundamentally ties what has been with what will be. We project our history forward.” The exhibiting artists guide us through portals of time, embracing the infinite possibilities of our ancient futures. 


— Ethel Tawe

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