NMAAHC puts on an exhibit that exemplifies core aspects of the futuristic art form.
On Friday, June 9, the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) will bring back its signature concert program NMAAHC Live to celebrate its new exhibition “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures.” Friday’s event will feature acclaimed singer-songwriter, animator and advocate Dawn Richard.
Richard has built a reputation for genre-defying music and exploring the intersection of art and technology since starting her career in the pop group Danity Kane. She cites, among influences like Sun Ra and the girl group Labelle, her home city of New Orleans and the Mardi Gras Indians.
“Afrofuturism is innately around us in New Orleans,” she says. “It’s not looked at as or called that, but what we embody is so uniquely us, it feels like it’s part of a futuristic concept.”
Richard’s performance will be the first NMAAHC Live series event since last summer. Past NMAAHC Live artists and luminaries have included roots musician Dom Flemons, Grammy award-winning jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bounce artist Big Freedia and Karamo Brown, host of Netflix’s “Queer Eye.”
The “Afrofuturism” exhibition, which runs through March 2024, encompasses more than a century of writing, music, film and art that has built Afrofuturism’s foundation and highlights innovators who have expanded upon its ideas and brought them to new audiences — from D.C. icon Benjamin Banneker to rap duo OutKast. It also explores how Afrofuturism draws from American, African, Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous history to imagine ambitious new possibilities.
The exhibition also reveals the profound influence Afrofuturism has had on American culture. With the skyrocketing success of the “Black Panther” Marvel film series (the late actor Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther costume is part of NMAAHC’s collection), Afrofuturism won fresh interest from the public.
The role of women in the Afrofuturism movement is an important component of the exhibition, which highlights five Black women icons who helped shape and define the concept, including science fiction author Octavia Butler; actress Nichelle Nichols, who starred as Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original “Star Trek”; and founding member of Labelle Nona Hendryx.
“I look at Janelle Monáe, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones — they’re world-builders. [I want to] inspire BIPOC girls to see themselves as world-builders, to create spaces to be heard, to be seen as beautiful,” Richard says. “Often in society, we are told to be one thing that’s very linear. The beauty of Afrofuturism is you can see yourself in many different forms.”
Richard, who recently joined the Hip Hop Caucus as its artist relations director, says that this concept is, in a way, also informing her identity as an advocate.
“My philanthropic work and artistry [speaks] to the future of what an artist looks like. I think I’m part of a new wave of artists who are making their own lanes.”
And what kind of performance can Friday’s attendees expect after the talk?
“A cathartic one,” Richard says. “In true Afrofuturistic form, I want to leave people saying, ‘Wow.’”
See “NMAAHC Live! An Afrofuturism Concert with Dawn Richard” on June 9 at 8 p.m. Learn more and reserve free tickets here. The National Museum of African American History’s exhibition “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” is on view now through March 24, 2024. Learn more here.
More Can’t-Miss June Events at the NMAAHC
Check out the museum’s events page for the full lineup and programming details.
National History Day at the NMAAHC Student Documentary Showcase
Join the NMAAHC for a showcase of student documentaries created for the National History Day competition, all reflecting the museum’s central mission. Free with your museum pass for June 14. 10 a.m.
Juneteenth Community Day
Celebrate Juneteenth at the NMAAHC with immersive programming for all ages, including experiences in gardening and the culinary arts, storytelling, music and arts and crafts. Free; RSVP required. 11 a.m.
Through the African American Lens: “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project”
The NMAAHC hosts the D.C. premiere of this biographical documentary about influential American poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, followed by a moderated panel discussion featuring Giovanni herself and the film’s directors, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson. Free; RSVP required. 2 p.m.
Black Folk: A History of the Black Working Class with Dr. Blair LM Kelley
Award-winning historian, author and professor Dr. Blair LM Kelley joins Gene Demby, host of NPR’s “Code Switch,” for a deep dive into her new book “Black Folk: The Roots of the Black Working Class.” Be sure to stick around for a book sale and signing afterward. Free; RSVP required. 11 a.m.
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