Sunday, 17 June 2012

Review: Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction, the Arnolfini, Bristol


Review: Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction
5 May – 1 July 2012
the Arnolfini, Bristol

Still from Pumzi, (2009), directed by Wanuri Kahiu


 I must be honest; I did not think that this exhibition would be my sort of thing at all. I do not have a particular interest in Science Fiction, and have certainly never pondered on the presence of Africa in popular science-fiction. However, I found this exhibition to be thought provoking, at times tender, sometimes violent, and intermittently dispersed with humour.  

   The theme of Science Fiction has been used by artists and filmmakers to address the complex issues of an often misunderstood continent. A continent, as displayed in Omer Fast's three part film installation Nostalgia,(2009), which the Western World judges sometimes wrongly. In the final film in the installation, a retro-futuristic film shows at West African colony increasingly hostile to asylum seekers from a dystopian Britain. One of the female West African characters states how she has been to Britain to help with aid work, and states of the population that they are a proud and ancient culture, and ‘good at dancing’. This part made me cringe as a white British person, only too aware of how in the past, and even now, Africa and its people has been patronized and subjugated to racial stereotypes by the West.

    Another highlight for me was two early Neill Blomkamp short films, Alive in Joburg (2005) and Tetra Vaal, (2004). The films again made the viewer question how societies treat outsiders. To make the film Alive in Joburg, Blomkamp interviewed real people about the influx of immigrants into Johannesburg. Their answers were then edited to appear to be commentary on unwanted aliens by a scared local population.

The last work in the exhibition, and again one of my favourites was a short 21 minute film titled Pumzi, directed by Wanuri Kahiu. The film is a rare example of African science fiction. Having been brought up on science fiction in with an almost all Western and all white cast I found it strange to watch a film where the only white character was a servant. The film is set on a post apocalyptic world where the “Maitu Community” are living below ground. The heroine is a museum curator who is delivered soil in which she plants a old seed, which then germinates immediately. She rebels against the council to escape outside and plant the seed. I found the film beautiful, haunting and sadly a possible reality in terms of the themes of water shortage and mis management of natural resources.

I have only touched upon my own highlights of this exhibition, but I would certainly recommend anyone to visit the Arnolifini before it closes. It will leave you with a different view of science fiction, and a renewed or perhaps changed view of Africa, and indeed humanity itself. 

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