How science fiction has influenced African art

African artAfrican art
African artAfrican art


How science fiction has influenced African art

Science fiction is not the first genre that comes to mind when one thinks of African art, but these two have become intertwined, with Afrofuturism being the result. Afrofuturism is a term which was coined by Mark Dery in 1994 and is a cultural aesthetic, a philosophy of science and history which explores the intersection of African and African Diaspora culture with technology.

The influence of science fiction on African art can be seen in works by artists such as Osborne Macharia, Athi-Patra Ruga and Yay Abe. Their pieces place African people in futuristic landscapes, showing the world that the traditional views of African people in the future are outdated and incorrect. Below are just some of the African artworks that use science fiction as part of their themes.


Parklands: Fairview Crescent, Chad Rossouw

In his Parklands series, Chad Rossouw aims to replicate the bleakness of his childhood home in Table View in Cape Town. Here he experienced parks filled with dry grass, rusted play equipment and devil thorns. He recalls feeling as though he spent his childhood waiting for an adventure that never came.

Rossouw mimics the wasteland landscapes of Tatooine from Star Wars by placing a rusted, crashed spaceship in the fields of his childhood neighbourhood. He uses the landscapes of science fiction to show how his childhood felt lacking, and that many children in South Africa felt as though their parks and play equipment were left to languish with age, due to the complete lack of government funds and municipal care.


Deep Down Tidal, Tabita Rezaire

Tabita Rezaire is an emerging South African artist who believes fully in the idea of Afrofuturism. He states that he sees the ‘cosmos is the ordered universe, as in, a whole and organised system, and it may contain many universes—previous, future, and parallel.’ This can be seen in his video entitled Deep Down Tidal.

In this piece, we see how Rezaire imagines that the deep-sea fibre-optic cables that enable us to communicate globally coincidentally follow the former routes of colonial slave ships. He is illustrating how the internet of today still follows forms of colonialism and discrimination. Deep Down Tidal aims to reinforce the fact that Africa has long been a continent of technological innovation, which is effectively achieved by melding science fiction and art so elegantly.


People from Far Away, Gerald Machona

Zimbabwean artist Gerald Machona’s video People from Far Away looks at ideas of xenophobia, otherness and the need to find a sense of self while you are in a foreign country. Machona’s ‘Afronaut’ is dressed in a spacesuit made from decommissioned Zimbabwean currency and is walking through a desert, trying to make sense of the new world he is in.

Machona flips the science fiction trope of ‘alien landscape’ on its head and instead shows a supermarket as the ‘uncharted’ setting. This environment is familiar to the viewer, which serves to enhance the ‘alienness’ of the Afronaut, also showing how people who are foreign to a country feel ‘alien’ in comparison to locals. Machona draws attention to the concept of otherness and being an ‘alien’ in a foreign country by using science fiction concepts such as space exploration as part of his art.


Untitled 1, Maurice Mbiyaki

Maurice Mbiyaki is a mixed-media artist who uses his work to portray issues such as racial and ethnic identity in Africa. His Untitled 1 piece features his alter ego ‘Techno Daddy’ and it investigates the impact of contemporary technology on humanity, especially Africans.

His pieces look at how the technological advancements of the last two decades have impacted the world, both positively and negatively. This includes the reliance on mining for the computer parts, which has made many African people fall victim to low-wage labour abuse as well as other cultural and environmental diversity issues. Untitled 1 in particular uses discarded keyboard pieces to create a jacket for Techno Daddy, showing how wasteful the practice of creating technology can be in Africa.


A Terrible Beauty Is Born, Mary Sibande

Mary Sibande is a well-known South African artist who creates works featuring her alter ego ‘Sophie’. A Terrible Beauty Is Born is quite different from her usual installations featuring Sophie, and shows Sibane’s foray into science-fiction-esque sculptures.

Sophie is transformed into a creature that sports a surging mass of tentacles reminiscent of the Alien franchise creatures and scenery. She takes on the role of queen to adoring purple beings, a trope which is much explored in sci-fi films. The transformation is one of empowerment, casting aside any notions of political servitude that Sophie faced as a domestic worker. Sibande’s alter ego is now celebrated, showing how times have changed for African people and, most importantly, African women.


Space is the place

Science fiction and African art might not always go hand in hand, but many artists use the genre to explore crucial issues that their country and people are facing. By showing the world that African art can be a part of a technological, digitally-focused future, these artists are also allowing the world to see African people in a different light. Whether it is mimicking the wasteland of Tatooine in Cape Town or creating spacesuits out of old currency, science fiction and African artists are paving the way for art that truly has meaning to viewers.  

African art