Curator Kevin Strait

Curator Kevin Strait answers questions about the museum’s latest exhibition, Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures, and shares what visitors can expect during their journey. 

Open to the public through March 24, 2024, the exhibition features more than 100 objects and reveals this evolving concept’s historic and poignant engagement with African American history and popular culture.

What is Afrofuturism?


Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures exhibition located in the Bank of America Special Exhibitions gallery until March 24, 2024.

Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC

Afrofuturism is an evolving concept expressed through a Black cultural lens that reimagines, reinterprets, and reclaims the past and present for a more empowering future for African Americans. Afrofuturism expresses notions of Black identity, agency, and freedom through art, creative works and activism that envision liberated futures for Black life.

Afrofuturism was originally coined in scholarly circles to explore how Black writers and artists have utilized themes of technology, science fiction, fantasy and heroism to envision stories and futures of Black liberation and convey a more genuine and empowered image of the Black experience. 

Today, Afrofuturism has surpassed the boundaries of scholarship, evolving as a concept, and emerging as a philosophy, multimedia genre, aesthetic and cultural movement.

Why did the museum choose to take on the subject of Afrofuturism now?

Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures exhibition gallery
Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC

We are in a moment where we can see examples of Afrofuturism’s influence and impact on our culture.  The term has entered our lexicon from the popularity of films like “Black Panther,” yet it has historically been a significant driver of African American culture and expression. 

From the cosmologies of ancient black civilizations, to era of slavery and to the present day, African Americans have re-imagined the futures and possibilities of black people across the globe through the dynamic lens of Afrofuturism and this exhibit explores how Black artists, orators, leaders and intellectuals have utilized themes of technology, sci-fi, space and heroism to envision futures of black liberation and convey an expansive image of the black experience.

What do you want your visitors to walk away thinking or feeling from this exhibition?

Digital Toolkit
Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC

Our hope is for visitors to enjoy their visit and learn more about this dynamic topic by seeing the various ways that Afrofuturism connects with and influences American culture. 

The exhibition emphasizes a broader understanding of Afrofuturism, not simply as a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, but as part of a larger tradition of Black intellectual history, with distinct roots that stretch across generations and the Black Diaspora. 

Our hope is for audiences to be immersed in the concept by exploring Afrofuturist expression through its various forms in literature, music, art, film, fashion activism and visual media to get a sense of Afrofuturism’s historic, and poignant engagement with African American intellectual history and popular culture.

Afrofuturism is not a new concept. Who were some of the historians that first talked about Afrofuturism? And what claims did they make?

Portion of the Afrofuturism exhibition featuring elements of space

Portion of the Afrofuturism exhibition featuring elements of space. 

Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC

[Cultural critic and writer] Mark Dery coined the term and it was conceived through his discussions with author Samuel Delany, critic Greg Tate and historian Tricia Rose and featured in his essay “Black to the Future.” 

Sociologist Alondra Nelson and writers, technologists and artists like Sheree Renée Thomas, Paul Miller and Nalo Hopkinson developed an early list serv to research and develop the language of this new conceptual model, meant to analyze the intriguing ways that race, culture, and technology intersect within the broad nexus of Afrofuturism. 

What is your favorite item in this exhibition?

The ESP guitar from Vernon Reid that was used in the [band Living Colour’s] “Cult of Personality” video and the recording of their debut album, “Vivid.”

A custom electric guitar manufactured by ESP and owned by Vernon Reid. Reid played the guitar on Living Colour's debut album Vivid. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Donated by Vernon Reid

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