Art Market

An exhibition inspired by Afrofuturism was criticized for excluding black artists.

Kelsey Ables
Jul 30, 2019 4:13PM, via The Guardian

Sun Ra performing in London in 1982. Photo by David Corio/Redferns.

On Thursday evening, a show inspired by an unlikely pairing—Afrofuturism and tech billionaire Elon Musk—will open in Berlin. Titled “Space is the Place” after a song by experimental jazz composer Sun Ra, the exhibition will be mounted at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien art center. But despite the exhibition’s African influences, it does not include a single black artist.

In response, a collective of curators, activists, and museum workers called Soap du Jour wrote a letter to the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, expressing its outrage at the institution and calling out curator Christoph Tannert for what it calls his “unwavering commitment to white muskulinity!”

Afrofuturism is a movement that envisions the future and intersection of art, science, and technology from a black perspective. Afrofuturist writer Ytasha Womack has described the movement as “a way of bridging the future and the past and essentially helping to reimagine the experience of people of color.”

The letter breaks down the 22 artists in the show, which includes 18 white men, 3 white women, and one artist of color, the Singaporean conceptual artist Song-Ming Ang. Apart from DJ Juan Atkins, the coinciding performance program also excludes any performers of color. (The collective previously called out Berlin Gallery Weekend for being overwhelmingly devoted to white men.)

In its letter, published in full by artnet News, the collective outlined a list of grievances against Musk, who presides over factories that have been said to foment racism and discrimination. The group also pointed out the irony of connecting Musk, who they called a “megalomaniac,” to the Black Panther movement and the utopian vision of afrofuturist sci-fi, writing:

If you’re serious about imagining ‘advanced utopias,’ dear Christoph Tannert, may we suggest that you start by reflecting on the realities of the planet that we currently inhabit? We invite you to consider broadening your earthly horizons before expanding your vision to the universe at large.

In an email to artnet News, Tannert noted that every year, at least half of the artists the Künstlerhaus Bethanien shows are women, many of whom are also people of color. Tannert added: “Curatorial freedom is as valuable as artistic freedom.”

Kelsey Ables