This paper explores the strategic recoding of history as an act of sociopolitical resistance from two opposing Afrofuturist perspectives as reflected in the visual arts. Afrofuturism is defined here as a productive engagement with imaginatively altered histories in order to escape an imposed patriarchal, post-colonial 'pre-condition'. John Akomfrah's film The last angel of history (1995) is described by Charles Linscott as such an Afrofuturist, productive node between the archive (the past) and a time-space involution of the historically given, which "remixes history" and renews the future. Akomfrah’s title ‘Last Angel of History’ refers to philosopher Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, who observes it (history) as a growing pile of catastrophes. In the film, Akomfrah's time-traveling protagonist, the Data Thief, mines the past in order to productively sample the 'techno-fossils' needed to 'unlock' a better future. However, he becomes inexplicably stuck in twentieth-century Africa to which he has travelled from the future, rendering him the last angel of history, as the title of the film suggests. In the conceptualisation of her art installations, Martine Syms addresses what for her is the danger of an escapist, cosmological Afrofuturism, noting that the "dream of utopia can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice". In her Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto, she, like Benjamin's angel of history, discerns the wreckage of history – the "piling up [of] unexamined and hackneyed tropes," but with a more incendiary intention of setting them alight. Describing her visual art praxis as "metaphysical code switching," Syms eschews an exoticising astro-futurism for a Mundane Afrofuturism as the "ultimate laboratory for world building outside of imperialist, capitalist, white patriarchy". This paper thus recasts the angel of history as a black, female Mundane Afrofuturist in order to compare the sociopolitically renewing potential in the Afrofuturist works of Akomfrah and Syms.
Runette Kruger is Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology. She teaches Art Theory at third and first year level and supervises postgraduate candidates. She has published a number of articles and has delivered papers at inter/national conferences. She completed a PhD in Visual Studies at the University of Pretoria for which she devised an agentic and dissident utopia. Her research interests include Afrofuturism, utopia, time, space, cities, globalisation, agency and dissent.
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