How do we get from where we are to where we want to be with all of these constructs in the way? How do we move forward if we are constantly having to fight back? The past rolls in like a fog and clogs conversations about tomorrow with despair.
April Bey, a Black, queer, mixed-media artist, reminds us that sometimes, in order to get free, we must transcend. Positioning herself within the Afro-futurist tradition, she works with a fictional universe called Atlantica. Atlantica is inspired by the alien stories her father used to tell her as a child to explain racial oppression in the Bahamas and the U.S. Now, based in Los Angeles, Bey uses Atlantica to construct the aesthetics of the future—a reality where Black people are free from the confines of white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism.
As a Nassau, Bahamas native, Bey also incorporates the region’s tropical flora in her work. She positions the futurity of Black people in direct relationship to the environment, which can manifest as a physical landscape buzzing with harmonious texture, and draws on the legacy of Black art and literature that demonstrates how the natural world has always been part of Black liberation.
Her intricate stitching of Black people in grandeur also adds a layer of decadence to these stories that is reminiscent of African diasporic cuisine. Food seasoned over long periods of time or slow-cooked absorbs the depths of those flavors, and when tasted, envelops the palette. The process and attention to detail, alongside the historical and cultural knowledge, are the foundation.
This work, like the environment and cuisine, is immersive. Sequins, eco-fur frames, wax fabric woven into large-scale blankets, and colorful patterns are enticing in their pleasure and vitality. The sense-heavy appeal helps transport the viewer beyond the visual and into the spirit of the body, connecting generations across space and time and planting the seeds of the future. Alexis Pauline Gumbs demonstrates this connection in an essay on combat breathing, which our ancestors used to claim their freedom in a world that would not acknowledge it, and Bey conjures this through-line in stirring pieces such as “Don’t Think We’re Soft Because We’re Gracious.”
Bey’s work adds to the long and transformative history of Black and queer people who have subverted power structures through futurity, love, and hybridity. And how fitting? For she knows that to be queer is to live in the future anyway.
You can catch the artist’s solo exhibition, Colonial Swag, at Tern Gallery until May 28 and follow her on Instagram for updates and to see close-ups of her works.
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