Afrofutures: Before and Beyond at the Davis Gallery

By Abby Leyson ’22

Staff Writer

On October 15th, The Davis Gallery at Houghton House opened its latest art exhibition Afrofutures: Before and Beyond. To get a closer look at the artwork and its meaning, The Herald went to the gallery and spoke to several individuals involved with it.

Afrofutures: Before and Beyond includes an array of art forms that conveys the philosophies, politics, and aesthetics of Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism visualizes a place and time where Black identity and experiences are created without colonial ideologies.

The exhibition includes artists Kimberly Ashby, Tania Balan-Gaubert and Stacey Robinson, all of whom express what their identities and/or experiences could be like without colonization affecting their individuality in society. Their art featured in the gallery depicts dispersion, hybrids, and critiques of governmental and societal control. Moreover, the bodies and pieces dedicated to being are conveyed by the artists as neither utopic nor apocalyptic in order to build other forms of being and worlds, which is the essence of Afrofuturism.

The exhibit features digital collages, installations, sculptures, graphic arts, music, and film throughout the Davis Gallery. Additionally, the Solarium Gallery in Houghton House featured an installation of Afrofuturism Short Films curated by the course ENV 360: Environmental Afrofuturism. The smaller gallery space was transformed into a theater for viewers to sit and watch segments throughout film history where Afrofuturism is depicted and Black identity is redefined without the constraints and trauma of colonialism.

Co-collaborator of the collection Anna Wagner shared her thoughts on why HWS opened their Afrofuturism exhibit: 

“This exhibition spoke to many things that we wanted to incorporate into our exhibition programming this year, especially the collaborative and generative possibilities of Afrofuturism as forward looking, questioning, and envisioning better/different worlds—crucially, where white voices aren’t the default perspective,” said Wagner. “With the interest from ENV 360, we wanted to also explore the relationship between science, environmental justice, and art practice. Because Afrofuturism as a genre is so pluralistic, enfolding music, art, literature, poetry, and theory, we also wanted to bring those threads together as much as we could, with as much student agency and input as possible.”

Afrofutures: Before and Beyond has been viewed as remarkable for the history of the Davis Gallery’s exhibitions due to the lack of attention and space made for Black artists in general. This major step in diversifying the Davis Gallery did not go unnoticed by students.

Student and Davis Gallery worker Annie Wertheimer (’22) shared her thoughts on the gallery with The Herald:

“As an art history student, we learn a lot about museums in institutions, and especially at Hobart and William Smith, we never think of our collection as being diverse. By doing a show like this has been empowering for a lot of students, like Rose Colon-Martinez––a student here––whose work is included in the gallery. Focusing on Black artists is something we have classes on, but the gallery is typically more Eurocentric, so using this gallery for artists of color has been really great.”

Opening the Davis Gallery as a space for Black artists to openly express themselves is a step towards expanding diversity and inclusivity at HWS with an exhibition dedicated to Black identity, specifically Black identity imagined without colonial ideologies. This has the potential for more freedom of expression from BIPOC students in higher education.

Congratulations to the team that curated this season’s exhibition Afrofutures: Before and Beyond, a momentous show that transcends Black identity from its origins and effortlessly guides spectators through the journey and essence of Afrofuturism.

The exhibition will be open until December 1st, 2021 at the Davis Gallery in Houghton House.

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