Wakanda University 2019

I co-curated the Wakanda University project with fellow anthropologist Elizabeth Chin for the second year at the American Anthropological Association meeting in Vancouver, BC.

Curatorial Statement

WakandaAAA embraces and explores futures beyond whiteness. Our influences draw from a wide range of positions including Afrofuturism, Indigenous futurism, and Ethno-futures; POC feminism, Queer theory, and Crip science. Down with heroes and their narratives. Up with genre-busting and serious play. 

Why call it Wakanda? We take Wakanda as a provocation. Wakanda is a fictional place originally invented as the home of the Marvel Comics character Black Panther by two white, Jewish men, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It offers up an alternate timeline, a past/present/future that decenters whiteness. This fictional realm has become a popular cultural icon for our moment, at times even acting as a shorthand for Afrofuturism, as a consequence of the 2018 film Black Panther. But in these official figurations, Wakanda isn’t flawless, or even a future that many people might actually want. Wakanda is depicted as a patriarchal monarchy financed by resource extraction and hoarding, protected by a high-tech, digital surveillance-security state.

Yet taken as a provocation, Wakanda urges “us” – non-innocent, non-obvious, and deeply political agents – to imagine better timelines beyond whiteness and centralized control of economies and technologies. “We” still have to do the work of responding to the provocation – organizing, creating, materializing, practicing in various ways. Wakanda University 2019 seeks contribute to this grand challenge by creating a space for refuge from the most harmful aspects of our current meatspace timeline and for imagining what comes next, and how to do it otherwise.

Ditching techno-utopia, how might technology–widely imagined–play a role in anthropologies yet to come? What new forms of knowledge production can be birthed through performative play? How can epistemologies and experiences beyond whiteness shape (academic) cultures yet-to-be?  Can anti-racist research and making materialize spaces, technologies, and experiences that are enlivened by principles of afrofuturism, indigeneity, intuition, and collective well-being?

My major contribution was Cyborg Sandbox. Here is the statement for that project.

Code a body for resistance! 

Build networks of capacity! 

We live in a future ordered by colonialism, depleted by capitalism, simplified by whiteness, haunted by the logics of population. According to the internet, it’s the worst possible timeline. What better time to imagine things otherwise: other futures, other pasts, other relations, other desires, other stories.

The #cyborgsandbox is a place and an event for embodied imaginings of other futures. Futures in which Black rights to bodily integrity and Indigenous sovereignty over lands-waters-airs take priority over settler-colonial resource hoarding. Futures where the agency of lands and spirits and non-human organisms are recognized and respected. 

What role will bodies and technologies – and voluntary cyborg conjunctions of the two – play in such imagined futures? Playful experimentation and material demonstration in the #cyborgsandbox will point anthropologists in new directions. Collective crafting of speculative stories about pasts yet to come offer a way to rewrite our expectations of progress, change, and decline.

The sandbox will be a playful space where you can use the materials available – or those you bring to contribute to the happening – to build your prototype. Think about how you would wear it, what body systems it would adjust/extend/augment, where and when you would wear it, if it has a practical purpose or sensory purpose or expressive purpose.

The gallery will be a space to share what you make. Diagram it, photograph it, sketch it — share what you made with #AAACASCA and posterity. Share the object’s future/past narrative in as much or little depth as you want. Tag it with relevant labels to build a queer community taxonomy of future technologies. Seven of Nine will be the exhibit’s friendly Borg curator.

Code a body for resistance! 

Build networks of capacity! 

#cyborgsandbox at #AAACASCA for speculative imaginings!

In summer 2019, we will be continuing this project with an effort to catalog the objects created as part of Cyborg Sandbox and to create written statements describing some of the other objects featured in Wakanda University 2018 and 2019. This work will be based out of the Technology, Culture, and Society department at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

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