All aboard, OMCA’s ‘Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism’ exhibit is empowering journey

Photo of a visual from Mothership
Alun Be/Courtesy

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Black fills your immediate vision, the entrance spanned by solid painted walls. Visual sensory deprivation forces attendees to hone in on the soundscape that conflates natural and primal sounds, bending time and space into meaningless constructs. This is the mark of a new era.

Until Feb. 27, the Oakland Museum of California, or OMCA, is presenting a special exhibit titled “Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism.” Intent on not only uplifting Black American communities as leaders of global society but also glorifying the beauty of everyday traditions, the exhibit excels in reimagining the contemporary world where Black people are pioneers in technology and culture. 

With the compelling aesthetic of a fantastical science-fiction world in theme with hopeful reimagination, the Afrofuturism exhibit facilitates a deep dive into changemakers in Black communities. Especially notable was the emphasis on inclusivity. Building on the inherent flaws of the current world, many of the artworks follow an escapist model, envisioning society as “ruined” and imagining more agency for Black people in a science-fiction or fantasy setting.

Touching on nearly every aspect of Black American culture, the exhibit takes visitors on a journey through the key elements of different eras. The display’s first section walks viewers through the origins of cultural stories and celebrates tradition with symbolic chalk drawings reminiscent of primeval cave art. Next, the viewer is grounded in the pain and suffering many Black people went through during the African diaspora and periods of slavery.

In an attempt to move beyond this suffering, the third section highlights Black leadership  at the forefront of science, culture and novelty, affording them power. The exhibit merges reality with imagination in fantastical ways, uplifting Black communities while also advocating for necessary change. Finally, viewers are brought back to earth with a reminder of the numerous accomplishments and strides Black American people have made in the modern day, encouraging all to plant seeds of a better future. 

Offering a cornucopia of art mediums, the OMCA’s “Mothership” exceptionally combines film, collages, comics, movie props, science and more to appeal to every visitor. By including accessible, diverse types of art, each onlooker can find a way to build a personal connection with the art and the movement. Independently, the pieces are not specific to a media or category; the eclectic exhibit represents an amalgamation of artifacts of a revisionist world that defies traditional standards.

Building on a novel sense of identity, the exhibit resists stereotypes and instead portrays the ushering-in of a new era of thought and representation. For instance, Wangechi Mutu’s painting “Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies” depicts humanoid forms filled with a compilation of human and animal features in an almost disorienting manner. Defying convention, the intentional bewilderment brought about by the artwork reflects the artist’s refusal to be subject to modern prejudice.

Following the exhibit’s visionary themes, Parliament-Funkadelic’s music created an analogous version of “Star Trek” featuring only Black characters, rife with representation in the album Mothership Connection. By both placing Black American people as leaders in space technology advancements and uplifting their culture, P-Funk exemplifies how a reimagined world is required for these hopes of fulfilled representation and positivity to be realized.

Although the exhibit overall excels in introducing visitors to a new movement and carrying them through the profound impact it has had across time and mediums, the sheer multitude of artworks included in the exhibit does make for a rather lengthy experience. At certain points, the media variation began to exhaust the analytical eye, as each new piece required renewed attention to fully understand and appreciate the work.

Irrespective of the exhibit’s length, climbing aboard the “Mothership” will set visitors upon an unforgettable journey through the past, present and alternate futures, helping them consider how they can help build a future that uplifts Black communities.

“Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism” will be presented at OMCA until Feb. 27, 2022.

Contact Sejal Krishnan at [email protected].