Post-Election Los Angeles: Salvation in Afrofuturism

Let It Be Known: Short Films inspired by Octavia E. Butler, REDCAT, Los Angeles, Nov. 28, 2016, curated by Erin Christovale

'I have the kind of imagination that hears. I think of it as radio imagination.'

– Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006)

Twenty days after the U.S. election, I wasn’t the only one wanting leave the planet on a spaceship to time-travel, locate ‘peace’ in a distant galaxy, ride the confluence of inner and outer space, consciousness and imagination; coming from New Zealand to Los Angeles, salvation was found at the first port of call. CalArts’ Redcat theatre in Downtown Los Angeles hosted Let It Be Known: Short Films inspired by Octavia E. Butler. This diverse selection of experimental shorts by contemporary artists was part of Radio Imagination: Artist and Writers in the Archive of Octavia E. Butler, an exhibition and series of events examining the legacy of the groundbreaking African American science fiction writer who established the literary foundation of Afrofuturism.

The series of short films and animations conceived and expanded abstract visualisations with an African American female protagonist predominantly featured as narrator and participant. Despite this common denominator, each filmmaker's approach was radically unique in perspective, from alienation to spatial and aural consciousness, creating a transcendent exploration of inner and outer space. Jamilah Sabur’s Playing Possum (2012) featuring dancing on the moon in a poetic dervish heightened by the unnerving electronic soundtrack, contrasted with slapstick comic relief provided by Lauren Kelley’s witty claymation: Big Gurl (2006). The visual feast of technically and narratively riveting animation The Golden Chain (2015) by Buki Bodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels was a highlight: ‘Eko’ is a Nigerian space station in a remote corner of the galaxy set in the distant future. A dialogue rich in Nigerian symbolism takes place between the omnificent female space captain Yetunde and sole crew member Andre, as he collects samples.

In a panel discussion following the screening, links and references from the heritage of experimental film melded with visual art traditions and innovative new design technologies, while mainstream pop culture fused with deep personal consciousness. It provided a palpable and experiential antidote to the political climate, providing an alternative worldview via the dynamic, creative possibilities of Black Radical Imagination. One can only hope the program will tour outside of America, to demonstrate the complexities of culture within the United States, both the plight of institutional racism and its fierce, and fearlessly creative, opponents.

The concurrent Octavia Butler programme:

Clockshop presents in January 2017 Counter-Inaugural: a series of talks addressing the misogyny, hate speech, and climate change denial that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign.

Octavia E. Butler’s bestselling science-fiction magnum opus Kindred is being released in January 2017 in graphic novel format (; while the Whitney Museum in New York’s current exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art 1905-2016 features the brilliant and moving short film by Frances Bodomo from Ghana, Afronauts (2014), through February 5, 2017.


Jamilah Sabur: Playing Possum (2012, 9:54min). Courtesy of the artist and curator Erin Christovale, Black Radical Imagination.


Buki Bodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels, The Golden Chain (2015, 13:19min)

Alice L. Hutchison is a writer and curator based between New Zealand and California. Born in Melbourne, (overseen by Prahran nuns in infancy), she studied Art History at the University of Auckland before interning at the New Museum in New York. She has since been curator at the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach, as well as the Skirball Cultural Center, and she curated an independent project at the Venice Biennale in 2007. From 2013-16 she was Director of Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in New Zealand and in 2017 back in countercultural California.