A Joburg Guide to the African Futures Festival

Afropolitan author and critic Achille Mbembe says that, “If you want to have any idea of the world that is coming, the world that is ahead of us, look at Africa!”. There has indeed been a global shift in perspective towards the African continent, which is giving answers to global questions about the future. 

In this vein, African Futures is a series of three interdisciplinary festivals taking place concurrently in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi from 28 – 31 October. Organised by the Goethe-Institut, the project asks what various African futures might look like and draws on the work of artists and academics to uncover this. The four day program follows potential narratives and artistic expression in literature, fine arts, performance, music, film, and various digital formats.

This guide to African Futures will help you navigate the happenings in Johannesburg. All events take place at the Goethe-Institut South Africa (119 Jan Smuts Ave, Parkwood) unless stated otherwise.

Wednesday, 28 October

Narratives in Science Fiction Literature

Binyavanga Wainaina - African Futures

Four award-winning writers are participating in the opening event of African Futures, with three book readings leading into a panel discussion. Nnedi Okorafor will share an excerpt from her novel Who Fears Death which tells the powerful story of genocide in the far future and the woman who reshapes her world. Lauren Beukes is reading from Zoo City and a more recent short story, Slipping about a girl from Gugulethu competing in an extreme games tournament where anything goes. Lastly, Leif Randt will read from his latest novel Planet Magnon, which imagines a world where humans become pawns of the machine. In the second part of the evening, one of the most prolific and outspoken writers in Africa today, Binyavanga Wainaina, will lead a panel discussion on current and future narratives in science fiction literature.

When: 6:30 – 9pm

Thursday, 29 October

New Dimensions: A Virtual Reality Exhibition

Evolution of Verse by Chris Milk

Curated by Ingrid Kopp and Steven Markovitz, New Dimensions is a unique exhibition that turns reality on its head. The exciting new medium of virtual reality can be used to heal, escape, entertain, inform, enrich, inspire and educate it’s inhabitants by transporting them into different worlds. In this way, VR is an “empathy machine”. The group show New Dimensions is a chance to explore a selection of immersive, experimental virtual reality projects from around the globe.These include Vincent Morisset’s ‘Way To Go’ – a magical interactive experience that remind you of all that lies before you, within you, in the luscious, sudden pleasure of discovery; the first ever Virtual Reality news broadcast produced by Chris Milk, Spike Jonze, and VICE News; and Jonathan Dotse and Kabiru Seidu’s 360-degree short film ‘Pandora’ where the ancient Greek myth is re-imagined in an African context.

When: From Thursday to Saturday between 10am – 5pm

Africa’s Speculative Futures and New Imaginaries

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum - African Futures fest

What kind of speculative futures do artists from different disciplines imagine? A panel discussion moderated by journalist and writer Sean O’Toole attempts to answer this. Much thought-provoking work has been produced when artists who engage with ideas of the future. As Ntone Edjabe, one of the curators of African Futures remarked, “Living in Nairobi right now is science fiction”. The panel will be made up of ean-Pierre Bekolo, whose work includes the first African lesbian sci-fi movie Les Saignantes; Egyptian graphic novelist Sherif Adel; fine artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum; and Faustin Linyekula, an internationally renowned choreographer. These artists will be discussing their own work in relation to their views on African futures.

When: 10am – 1pm

‘They Came From Outer Space’: A Walkabout with Raimi Gbadamosi 

Raimi Gbadamosi, 'They Came From Outer Space'

They Came From Outer Space is an exhibition curated by Raimi Gbadamosi that deals with questions regarding conceptions of Africa and the future. She says, “The idea of science and technology sits uncomfortably alongside general perceptions of Africa as ‘a place out of time'”. Technology in Africa is firmly placed in the indigenous past, so as to not disturb ideas of the “superior” Western modernity maintained as part of systematic domination. In fact, technological developments on the continent such as the Pyramids have often been explained by Western sources in terms of the arrival of foreign influence, including terrestrial, celestial or from “Outer Space”.

When: 3 – 4pm

Film Screenings: Les Saignantes, Afronauts and Crumbs

Les Saignantes by Jean-Pierre Bekolo

Co-curated by Steven Markovitz and the Goethe-Institut and shown as the Bioscope Independent Cinema with the directors present, the film programme of African Futures interrogates different filmic visions of the future of Africa. These include Frances Bodomo’s Afronauts, a film inspired by true events in which the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon; Miguel Llanso’s Spanish-Ethiopian production Crumbs set in a surreal post-apocalyptic landscape; and Les Saignantes by Jean-Pierre Bekolo – hailed as the first African lesbian sci-fi film. 

When: 5 – 9:30pm

Where: The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Maboneng

Tickets are available here.

Friday, 30 October

Technology: Means or Curse of the Future?


Who owns technology and its embedded codes? When will we use software that’s written in Yoruba? And what’s the story with Ghanaian cyberpunk? In its current form technology is widely produced in the West. Yet, at the same time, much of today’s technological innovation, production and repurposing is happening in other parts of the world – including Africa. Conceptual artist and WITS Fine Arts professor Raimi Gbadamosi, digital interactive artist and WITS Digital Arts School lecturer Tegan Bristow, author of the blog Afrocyberpunk Jonathan Dotse and filmmaker of the award-winning movie Pumzi will weigh in on whether the next technological revolution is in the making. The panel will be moderated by writer, analyst and technology commentator Arthur Goldstuck. 

When: 10am – 1pm

Afrogalactica: The Deep Space Scrolls

Afrogalactica - The Deep Space Scrolls

In the third and last chapter of a series of performances, Kapwani Kiwanga borrows from science fiction and history to play an anthropologist from the future. Her character lives in the year 2100 in the United States of Africa – a Confederation created in 2058 – but has travelled back to the present day to tell us about the Afronaut Odyssey.

When: 4 – 5pm

Circumatlantic Conference: The Future of the African Diaspora

African Futures - Goethe Institut

This circumatlantic conference will bring together speakers in Johannesburg, São Paulo and New York (via live video conference) to discuss the ways contemporary artists and intellectuals of the African diaspora in North and South America, as well as Europe, envision their future today. The intention is to create an international debate that emerges from a local level and then opens up global avenues of thought and reflection. Speakers in Joburg include Kodwo Eshun of the prolific London based Otolith Group, and founder and curator of the Berlin based SAVVY Contemporary art space. In São Paulo will be Viny Rodriguez, sociologist and member of Sistema Negro, and poet and essayist Leda Martins. Joining them from New York is Kenyan born award-winning artist Wangechi Mutu.

When: 7 – 9pm

Film Screenings: Homecoming, Pumzi and Future Sound of Mzansi

Wednesday 24th June 2009. Good Hope Centre, Cape Town,  Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa.  These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009.  The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival.  In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant.  Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes her to question her own existential role in this wor

The second screening of the African Futures festival starts with Jim Chuchu’s film Homecoming, which follows a nerdy voyeur named Max who turns fiction into truth and the mundane into the unexpected in his quest to attract the attention of Alina – the girl next door. Screened alongside this is Pumzi by Wanuri Kahui; in a world where nature is extinct and the outside is dead we meet Asha, a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council, who receives a mysterious box in the mail containing soil. Lastly, Spoek Mathambo and Lebogang Rasethaba’s film Future Sound of Mzansi is showing – a documentary that explores, expresses and interrogates South Africa’s cultural landscape.

When: 7 – 9:30pm

Where: The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Maboneng

Tickets are available here.

Saturday, 31 October

Knowledge Production: Where Do We Go From Here?

End_of_history_ by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi

Who generates knowledge about Africa? How do past, present and future collide in representations of the continent? And what are the different languages we use to speak about Africa’s political, technological and cultural tomorrow? These questions will be addressed through a series of talks by artist Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, musician Keziah Jones, founder and editor of the Chimurenga Chronic Ntone Edjabe and Afropolitan author and critic Achille Mbembe. Together, they will team up to discuss current conditions and possible ways forward in and for Africa, with panel moderation by Molemo Moiloa (head of the Visual Art Network South Africa).

When: 10am – 1pm

‘See Africa’: Exhibition Opening and Walkabout

Serge Attukwei Clottey - African Futures

The founder of Mashumi Art Projects, Zanele Mashumi is a young curator who is responding to the unique needs of a new generation of a South African artist. “I show mainly in Soweto, which is still unusual,” she says. “I want to bring contemporary art to Soweto and the people who live in Soweto; to show that it is for everyone.” Featuring artists whose practices are exploratory, outward-looking and futuristic – including Mbali Dlamini, Thamsanqa Thami Mbenkazi, Albert Ibokwe Khoza, Serge Attukwei Clottey and Nompumelelo Tshabalala – See Africa will be held in a pop-up gallery in Dube.

When: 2:30 – 7pm

Where: 1354 Mncube Drive, Dube 1852, Soweto

African Futures Concert and Closing Party

African Futures - Concert

What better way to wrap up an incredible week of talks, screenings and art exhibitions than a concert and closing party? Each performing music that relates to the theme of African Futures; singer-songwriter and guitarist Keziah Jones, electronic producer Spoek Mathambo and Aero Manyelo‘s new creative collective Batuk, Kenya’s eclectic and soulful Just A Band, and German duo Gato Preto will form the explosive line up.

When: From Saturday, 7pm to Sunday, 4am

Where: Alex Theatre, 36 Stiemens Street, Johannesburg

Tickets are available here.

Visit www.africanfutures.tumblr.com for more info.

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