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How can we frame and understand the progression and future of Southampton’s black community through the lens of Afrofuturism?

Because every one of our exhibitions helped to shape the next, Black to the Future was an exhibition built on the gallery responding reflexively to community requests and feedback. Consultation with local residents revealed that many still felt that the arts in the city was exclusive and hard to engage with because the culture on offer was not representative or relevant. Perceptions were that top-down planning and dominant institutions dictated outcomes and prevented community voices from being heard. In response, we developed a grass roots approach seeking to disrupt the status quo of cultural provision, take more projects off-site, remove curatorial and university control and allow community views to lead the programme.

Through Black to the Future, the gallery experimented with co-curation, collaborating with race and diversity consultant, Don John to develop an exhibition that featured UK artists exploring art through a black cultural lens. In consultation with Don John, Afrofuturism was explored as a vital subject matter to create a space owned by the community. Afrofuturism is a way for contemporary African and diaspora artists to demand, imagine and create their own futures, shaped by and through both past and present. From colonialism and slavery to police brutality, and from cultural repression to cultural appropriation, Black people in Africa and the diaspora alike have seen their futures dictated, hijacked or destroyed for centuries. But resistance has remained fierce.

Don John in front of a yellow wall with the words 'Afrofuturism is...' on it

Don John and friend in front of the yellow wall that has graffiti on it

The exhibition was augmented by public events, local artist displays and an interactive space for people to express their views and the response was overwhelmingly positive and proactive. New links and experiences were built upon to explore the key themes of connectivity, inclusivity and identity. New audiences attended the space and helped shaped what future exhibitions would be.

A child pointing to some words on a wall

People looking at the art on display

A person giving a talk in a school

A child's drawing

A quote about black to the future

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