Cultural organizing: prefigurative strategy lessons from Afrofuturism, surrealism and performative resistance.

Over the last few days, i have been thinking and reasoning the importance of cultural organizing in shifting consciousness and contributing to the collective learning. i want to find ways to actively contribute to social movement building grounded in the cultures and spaces i am already a part of. i read and pull lessons from a variety of sources, i find meaning in anarchist social theory as often as i learn from The Boondocks. i am a lover of social and crowd-sourced media, music and movement mentor me, and i believe that experiences in which all of our senses are engaged tell us about reality if we are willing to listen.

The desire to create this post started as i walked through the Tate Modern. i was meandering in the galleries of my mind more than being present with the environment that surrounded me. i was caught up in the panic of how to articulate cultural organizing as a valid resistance strategy with theoretical concepts, which would make my thoughts ‘valid’ in the eyes of the institution. i struggle to write. Writing, language and the production of knowledge in this way are areas that i feel displaced from. i do not write with the frequency and volume necessary to make my voice heard in the academy. All this is to really say, i spend too much time engaged in paralyzing self-doubt. i was pulled out of these thoughts when i found my body rooted in front of a painting. i realized i had walked through an entire gallery and not read a single artist statement, i hadn’t even really allowed a work to fill up my consciousness. i came into my body as i stood in front of the painting below, Ibrahim El-Salahi’s Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams.

 Reborn sounds of childhood dreams

 i felt my body in space, my eyes traveled over a canvas taking in the image as a whole and in its many parts. This painting was communicating with me, an internal movement pulled me into ‘reality’. It resonated with me on a level that surpassed the superficiality of the intellect and the waking consciousness. i wanted to climb inside of the work and experience the world constructed by Ibrahim.. His works become a beautiful alternative, a creative resistance strategy. His response to ‘post-independence’* violence was to attempt to create a visual vocabulary that connect all Sudanese to a shared experience of their environment and humanity. In this work in particular, he seeks to capture the fleeting moments when memory and dreams, past and present collide. (a caveat, the word post-independence was used on the plaque to describe his work, i personally prefer not to use terms which presuppose independence exists and seek to negate the on-going effects of coloniality and the benefits received by former colonizers to this day, however not knowing whether this word was chosen by the artist himself or the Tate, i chose not to omit it.)

 Y’all, i stood in front of this piece for a hot minute. The more i stood there, the more i took in and the deeper my thoughts went, i thought about the idea of creating a visual vocabulary that transgressed the borders that language maintains. The distance between the meaning of words is sometimes too great, it forces us away from one another, and seeks to create the “other”, the un-human, those that become the objects for the violence we witness, experience and are complicit in.

Standing in front of this painting, i began to think about the construction of memory and history, of dream and narrative, ordering the world around us into something meaningful is a process we engage in at ever moment. i find meaning in the spaces that speak to me, this painting spoke and i listened. It told me to think about the connections with it and the film The Last Angel of History, an Afrofutruist film that traces a non-linear history of diasporas and displacement. It highlights the fragmentation we experience as the victims of the coloniality of power and knowledge, it addresses the underlying desire to reconcile these fractures and rupture, to connect to the sharp pieces of ourselves that can either cut us from within or create prisms that reflect the greatest parts of us. The Sounds of Childhood Dreams asked me what thread weaves together my love of visual culture, Afrofuturism , science fiction and in a broader way hip hop culture. i realized in that moment; the art forms i am drawn to and occasionally create, actively engage in prefigurative strategies and creation.

In movement building we often talk about the endpoint, the idea of more justice systems of social ordering and interactions. Emancipatory spaces where exploitation does not take place, that are rooted in values of collective liberation. In movement building work, i have experienced the polarizing divide between individuals who want to work within the system for social reform, and the dreamers who seek to reimagine the structure completely. They are positioned at odds with one another, in institutions, networks, and affinity groups. It creates discord and enmity between groups that could be working together to the creation of this endpoint. Immortal Technique offers the commonly held critique of social reformists, “The problem with always being a conformist is that when you try to change the system from within, it’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you.” On the opposite side of this rift, the criticism of anarchist/dreamers/etc is that they lack the direction to create any type of movement, or the ability to sustain it.

In the development of my political consciousness, i remember being stuck in this mode of thinking, the daydreaming of change with no clear understanding of how to get there.  Prefigurative strategy is about reconciling this divide, creating a critical understanding that movement towards true political change must create spaces of belonging in spaces of difference. Prefigurative strategy is about having a liberatory vision of what the world could look like while actively putting strategies in place on the ground to bring that world into being. It is about the understanding that multiple worlds and possibilities exist, and it is in our collective grounding in revolutionary values of autonomy, love, mutual aid and solidarity, that we are able to institute very personal prefigurative strategies while being committed to anti-oppression as we help one another live out those values and actively engage in creation work.

i am working to develop a way to use my artistic expression, my creative capacity to help move forward my own prefigurative strategy, while connecting it to the struggles of my family, communities and cultures. My last thoughts are these, i want to weave my spaces of difference together, i want to feel a unified belonging in the world, not as a selfish desire, but as a desire to see more creation and less destruction. A desire for our collective consciousness to increase, a desire for the kids on my block to feel connected to the earth around them, a desire for borders to dissolve, a desire for us to be more human not less. i want to end with a performative piece by Guillermo Gomez-Pena, he uses his artistry to call into question how borders, identity and interactions are performed. He highlights the way hegemony uses these performances to maintain power through categories of exclusion. His declaration is a prefigurative imagine of what the world could look like…. it’s just a matter of putting lessons into practice

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