In the Black Fantastic review: A beguiling survey of Afrofuturism

The Hayward Gallery’s eagerly awaited exhibition is a fascinating look at an emerging sensibility – even if ‘the fantastic’ is an occasionally elusive concept, writes Mark Hudson

<p>Installation view of Nick Cave works</p>

Installation view of Nick Cave works

Maybe it’s a reaction to the toughness of the times, but “the fantastic” is suddenly everywhere in art. From this year’s Venice Biennale, with its surfeit of updated surrealism and sci-fi-influenced cyborg imagery, to the just-finished London art school degree shows, there’s evidence of an emerging generational sensibility. It’s one that’s informed as much by gaming, super-hero franchise movies and manga as it is by post-modern critical theory.

This eagerly awaited exhibition feels bang on the money – and the moment – in adding the dimension of Blackness. Curated by critic and former ICA director Ekow Eshun, it brings together 11 artists from the African diaspora who “grapple with the racial inequities of contemporary society” through fantasy, myth and fable, informed by “the legacies of Afrofuturism”. The latter element feels key. Once niche, now almost mainstream, this retro-futurist aesthetic is evident in everything from the music of Sun Ra, George Clinton and Beyonce to the Black Panther and Watchmen movies. Afrofuturism puts Black people in the spaceship’s driving seat in a meta-future where it’s always somehow the 1970s.

The show’s catalogue provides a wonderful compendium of Afrofuturist imagery that could make it the definitive guide to the style: from album covers to fashion photography, Afro-modernist architecture and film stills. There’s even quite a bit of actual art-art, from well-known figures such as Kerry James Marshall, Yinka Shonibare and Kara Walker.

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