‘The Future of Visual Culture’ poses big questions at YBCA 100 Summit

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“Question everything,” said Marc Bamuthi Joseph, chief of program and pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, or YBCA. The YBCA 100 Summit is an event at which 100 influential figures come to discuss the changes they are implementing in their respective fields. In its fourth annual run, the summit featured a talk titled “The Future of Visual Culture,” which asked its three honorees to present on the work they have been doing in the arts and media industry. At the center of the event was the idea of asking questions. Each of the honorees was asked what they think the future of visual culture will be and how we all can make it better and more inclusive.   

This budding program is a celebration of the impactful change individuals and organizations in the Bay Area and around the world are doing with their platforms. Past honorees include names such as Beyoncé, Ava DuVernay and even Stephen Curry. The YBCA 100 Summit works to gather some of those names on the list and interact with the attendees about urgent and important topics that are facing the world today.

On Saturday, preceding a talk called “Reimagining Political Power” with #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, YBCA featured three trailblazing honorees in its “The Future of Visual Culture” event. Bathumi Joseph officially commenced the event by stating that the point of the evening was “to articulate culturally catalytic questions,” and that it did.

Kat Gordon, founder of the 3 Percent Movement — an organization promoting equality in the advertising industry — spoke on the pressing need for more diversity in the field. Gordon expressed that this shift is incredibly urgent because the media is more influential than ever in this day and age. She notes that the actual products companies put out will feature more diversity if the decision makers are more diverse. If representation is increased in the media, it stands to reason that increased diversity in people’s day-to-day lives would follow.

   In a similar way, poet and filmmaker Rafael Casal took center stage to discuss how he is using his voice to encourage diversity in media. Casal recently made a film with his longtime friend Daveed Diggs called “Blindspotting.” The film highlights a subject that is not often given a platform in popular culture, let alone shown on the big screen: gentrification in Oakland.

“Stories are powerful,” he stated. Casal notes that we cannot keep following the same formulas and norms. “(The) norms of story are instinctual,” he said. He added that if we keep telling stories with those same norms, we continue to condition ourselves to instinctually see those norms despite the reality. His film, “Blindspotting,” demonstrates this notion.  

“Pick a fool you believe in, and dance to their weird drumbeat,” he urged. “Be the party starter.” Essentially, Casal believes that it is up to the public, especially those with privilege, to use their voices for good and to shine a light on narratives and people whose light might not be as bright. It is vital for future creators to champion the stories of the unheard and the unnoticed. Finally, he posed his big question: “What fight that isn’t yours are you willing to fight for anyway?”

Gordon and Casal articulated their belief in using platforms to expand the types of voices featured in different forms of media, and writer Nnedi Okorafor continued with that same notion when it was her time to take the stage.

“I’m fresh from Nigeria,” she candidly announced. Okorafor has been using her voice and her platform to give Black women representation in science fiction. She admits that she did not grow up reading the genre because she found it to be too white; she never saw someone like herself represented.

Africanfuturism is how she likes to categorize her novels. Combining elements of African culture with elements of science fiction is her way of diverting from the norm and including the narratives of Black individuals in a typically white genre. Diversity in the ads we see, the movies we watch and the books we read are all vital because people need to be represented equally.

Each of the honorees posed big, pertinent questions about the media and how it highlights underrepresented people. Then, they turned to the audience in a town hall style to question and refine their questions, even asking new ones. Like Bathumi Joseph said at the start, “Question everything” because questioning and holding people accountable will be how we improve as a society. Question if you even want to get a seat at that table. Break off and make your own path; divert from the norm. Okorafor said, “unbelonging is a belonging.”

Contact Julia Mears at [email protected].