Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room
Meet The Artists
Hear from the many contemporary artists whose work is featured in the room.
“I think for a lot of us, when we were kids, our ability to envision a future that was different than some of the things that we didn't like that we were seeing around us was to escape into a fantasy and envision a future that's more akin to a superhero comic book than it is to actual reality—and I think that comes through in my work and a lot of the people that express visions in an Afrofuture.” — Ini Archibong
Born in California to Nigerian parents and trained in Europe, Archibong incorporates luxurious and technologically daring materials in his designs with influences from folklore, mysticism, astronomy, and music to create a distinctly futuristic aesthetic.
“Culturally, traditionally, and in African spirituality and the way that I practice, we relate to the past, so the present can prepare the future.” — Andile Dyalvane
Raised as a farmer and herder in the small village of Ngobozana in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Dyalvane creates ceramic works that speak to his deep appreciation for the earth.
Dyalvane's Umwonyo—which means “crevice” in the Xhosa language—evokes the mountainous landscapes that surround both Ngobozana and Cornwall, England, where Dyalvane made this pot during an artist’s residency.
The vessel’s craggy dips and ridges were formed when his dancing in the studio caused it to collapse, a serendipitous moment that distilled both landscapes into a single artwork and created an energetic link between Dyalvane’s past and present.
“The Black imagination and manifestation of freedom is really what I was aiming at. And my feeling that roots, magic is really at the center of our strength and identity, and is something that has always helped direct us into the future and given us strength in the present.” — Fabiola Jean-Louis
Fabiola Jean Louis's stunning adaptation of the 19th-century corset dress features a gilded brooch at the neck portraying Ezili Dantor, the loa (spirit) of vengeance in Vodou that helped inspire and guide self-liberated insurrectionists during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804).
Apart from the jewelry, much of this regal dress is sculpted from modest materials—paper sheets and clay—celebrating the creative and radical aspects of the Black imagination, both of which insist on “making a way out of no way.”
With its bold, saturated colors and generous adornments, the ensemble flaunts Victorian ideals of propriety and allows the assertive wearer to push against gendered and racialized expectations.
“Afrofuturism is not being generated out of an ivory-tower mentality. It’s coming from the streets.” — John Jennings
Meet John Jennings, bestselling author and illustrator whose graphic novella "Protocol and Response"—featured in The Met's latest Bulletin, dedicated to Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room—animates the objects on display in the period room.
Hear more from Jennings on his work, passion for science fiction, and his thoughts on Black identity and the role museums play in surfacing and preserving Black stories in this interview.
“My dad gave the radio to my brothers. My brothers end up giving the radio to me. I didn't know what to do with the radio, so I decided to make the radio more artistic.” — Cyrus Kabiru
Born in Nairobi’s Korogocho—a neighborhood that borders the city’s largest garbage dump—Cyrus Kabiru as a child began creatively reusing the materials he salvaged, giving potentially obsolete items new meaning.
Part of a recent series, Miyale Ya Blue is one of the many transistor radios he has retrofitted. In an era when music and other media have migrated online, for Kabiru these objects not only elicit memories of gathering around his grandmother’s wireless to hear the news of the day but also are imbued with ancestral, spiritual powers that transport one imaginatively through space and time.
The details on this piece evoke the warming rays of the sun—"miyale" in Swahili.
“I really wanted to put myself in the position of being this Village Potter and creating things that refer back to my culture, my community, the people that have come before me and make it a part of people's everyday lives.” — Roberto Lugo
Roberto Lugo is renowned for his vibrant reinterpretations of 18th-century European porcelain forms, which he reimagines through the lens of contemporary hip-hop culture and embellishes with graffiti and kente prestige cloth patterns.
His works center the portraits of heroes whose visages do not often adorn fine porcelain or whose stories are too often absent from such luxurious wares.
On his piece Digable Underground in The Met's Afrofuturist period room, abolitionist Harriet Tubman faces the kitchen and contemporary singer-songwriter Erykah Badu looks into the living room; together, they reflect the ways that the kitchen acts as a site of temporal confluence—a merging of past and present into future possibilities.
“The idea comes and I sketch it down onto a piece of paper and see what kind of shape that comes out of it. But sometimes, the clay can dictate the whole process...” — Chuma Maweni
For generations, people have met around the kitchen table to share meals, stories, and dreams with one another. Communal gatherings like these are called imbizo in the Xhosa language.
To design his table and stools on view in the exhibition, Maweni drew inspiration from across time and space, from traditional Nguni vessels, which inform his patterns, to futuristic kitchens, where communities of the past and present meet. Here, in this house, knowledge is passed in a cycle, much like the carved rings created by the turning of Maweni’s pottery wheel.
“My work is about who I am and where I'm from...” — Zizipho Poswa
Zizipho Poswa's sculpture Noxolo references a magodi, a traditional African hairstyle, which she associates with memories of her aunt—after whom she named the piece.
The bowls stacked atop the piece evoke hair piled high on Noxolo’s head, and the bowls on the side reference her fondness for twisting and wrapping her hair into Bantu knots.
The massive work was not formed on a pottery wheel but was gathered, coiled, pinched, and smoothed, using precise movements akin to those necessary for realizing the hairstyles they represent.
Noxolo is part of Poswa’s Magodi series of large-scale, three-dimensional abstract portraits inspired by the community of women that raised her.
“Through my work, I aspire to change the world's perception of African design while exploring contemporary forms.” — Jomo Tariku
Jomo Tariku designs ergonomic furniture to support the body and mind, with aesthetic references drawn from elements of Ethiopian and Black American culture and history.
Tariku's Mido Chair synthesizes two important African symbols, the Afro comb—a tool used across Africa for centuries that is often linked to notions of cultural pride in the United States—and ceremonial seats.
“Afrofuturism to me is about asking questions like, 'what if?' or 'what could be?'...And then knowing that those dreams and desires are possible.” — Tourmaline
Tourmaline's work involves deep research into under-acknowledged and underrepresented histories, particularly those that center queer and trans historical figures of color in 19th- and 20th-century New York, from Seneca Village to Stonewall.
Here, Tourmaline shares more about one of two of her pieces in the show, Summer Azure, inspired by activist Marsha P. Jones.
“It is inspired by the journey of knowledge that sits between experience and exploration, which is felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” — Atang Tshikare
Atang Tshikare’s design process is one of self-exploration, motivated by the desire to allow Indigenous knowledge to surface what has been obscured by centuries of colonization.
Using materials native to South Africa, such as wood and grasses, and techniques passed down from his grandmother, such as charring and weaving, Tshikare reimagines a pair of 18th-century fauteuils—a type of upholstered French chair introduced during colonization—as a means of reclaiming Tswana culture from European colonial power.
Leifo, meaning “fireplace” in the Sotha language, suggests that these chairs are meant to be placed in front of a hearth. The brass beading combines astrological constellations with Zulu pictograms to resemble fire sparks.
Learn more about the space and see all the artworks on view in the Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room Virtual Opening.
Managing Producer: Kate Farrell
Producer: Melissa Bell
Editor: Lela Jenkins
Graphic Design: Abby Chen
Music: Austin Fisher
Photographs: Paul Lachenauer
The Artists, Sarah Lawrence, Ian Alteveer, Ana Matisse Donefer-Hickie, Claire Lanier, Victoria Martinez, Sofie Andersen