Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.


Imagining a future free of oppression

Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

August 25, 2017
7 min read

Live projection painting by Estabrak Al Ansari

‘We need images of tomorrow, and our people need them more than most’
Samuel R Delany

Over a weekend at the beginning of June, an ‘anti-conference’ of black, brown, POC, queer, trans, non-binary, intersex, agender, differently-abled and feminist activists, artists, organisers, techies, teachers and researchers filled the Professor Stuart Hall Building at Goldsmiths University. The ‘I/Mages of Tomorrow’ gathering was an attempt to discuss and envision what our futures could be, if built upon non-reactionary foundations. Keynotes included Gail Lewis with respondent Yasmin Gunaratnam, Evan Ifekoya and Ain Bailey in conversation with Kodwo Eshun, and Raju Rage and Kuchenga on trans-feminist futures.

Together we considered what could be achieved when we come together and do not only talk about whiteness, patriarchy, Islamophobia, racism, or homophobia, but instead talk about self-care, collective-care, non-disabling architecture, black love as revolutionary practice, alien sexologies and re-writing codes for resistance. In the face of the intensifying extreme right-wing political and ideological power in Britain and the western world, we asked (and are still asking) how we can build futures that do not play into the hands of what they have prepared for us. Now, in this moment when dejection and exhaustion intoxicate so many of our lives and communities, as black American science fiction writer Samuel R Delany wrote in 1984, we need ‘images of tomorrow’.

De-centre the oppressor

One of the main provocations for speakers and participants was to attempt to de-centre the oppressor/s in our conversations of freedom. This means that we are not considering futures in which we must prepare for racism and anti-blackness – however likely those futures may be – because we understand that racism is re-enacted not only by systems of structural oppression but also by the policing of any imagination of ourselves outside its clutches. The same can be said for gender, and sexual identity more broadly.

[R-L] Ama Josephine Budge, Evan Ifekoya, Ain Bailey,
Kodwo Eshun. Photo: Leslie Farah Marem

One of the most inspiring conversations for me on this front was ‘Disability as Anti-Systemic Superpowers’, chaired by writer and artist Salt Freeandsingle with artist Deniz Unal, science-fiction writer Tosin Coker, and disability activist and organiser Michelle Daley. Daley explained the differences between the ‘medical model’ and the ‘social model’ of disability – the former based on the unchangeable fact that the person is disabled and therefore cannot do certain things, the latter understanding rather that the world makes that person disabled through its architecture and public ideas of what is ‘normal’. The ableist structures that design public buildings, transportation centres and pavements in ways that can make them extremely difficult to navigate are the problem.

The problem is also the society that tells people with one kind of experience that they are the norm, and that everything else is different and therefore lesser/wrong. As the extraordinary afrofuturist installation by Lynx Sainte-Marie, ‘Children of O’, elucidates: ‘They used to believe Obatala drank the palm wine deeply and created the sacred ones with missing parts accidentally. Without limbs, nerves, important cells and pieces of brain… yet how could O not be overjoyed with their creations, all of us whole and diverse communicating with the vast sea of realms in different ways?’

There is so much to be understood from this simple, but highly political delineation. As othered and oppressed bodies and minds it’s hard to remember sometimes that we are not the problem, and more importantly to think that things could be completely different in the very near future. It is essential to hold on to that imagination of the future, because through it we already begin manifesting a different understanding of what is acceptable in the present. We begin to recognise what is not an inevitability, or ‘just the way things are’, but an active choice by individuals to repeat violent systems of oppression that result in the murder of black, disabled, migrant, Muslim, elderly, trans, female and queer bodies. In feeding that imagination we fight back with a strength so much more powerful than numbers.

Sacred and precious

Over the weekend, we dreamed about solar-panelled earth lodges with beehives for roofs, of futures in which people now considered less are sacred and precious, of organising food growth and global distribution in ways that dismantled neo-colonial modes of trade and enforced economic and societal autonomy in the global south. We invoked the importance of mixed race black activists in holding space for black dreams and fighting against shadeism; we healed ourselves with crystals and heated palms; we shared stories of coming out to our villages, of learning to love ourselves, of changing what it could mean to be a black man in a world that has actively transcended patriarchy.

Responding to the UK premiere of The Otolith Group’s new film The Third Part of the Third Measure, a highly-stylised performance of the work of minimalist composer Julius Eastman, Kodwo Eshun commented that the agenda of the fascist machine – made manifest in media, ‘history’, economic systems, the distribution of wealth and resources, and the dehumanisation of certain bodies – will not stop until we are all institutionalised, sick, assimilated or dead.

Our image of tomorrow is a future in which we do not have to survive this agenda, but can instead live, thrive, flourish, grow, expand and make love to the earth, ourselves and our communities without fear of restriction or retribution. We dream of a future in which we are truly free.

I/Mages of Tomorrow, Part II

The anti-conference was an immersion in the impossible materialised, a beautiful and empowering attempt at community, healing, creation; a challenging and unsettling exploration of our capacity to invoke dreams and to enact them into reality. Although supported by several departments of Goldsmiths, the weekend ran on an extremely tight budget, and was itself an act of revolutionary practice. With the support of queer brown feminist scholar Chandra Frank and feminist ally Tiffany Page, as well as many wonderful volunteers and in-kind donations, we ‘pulled it off’ and many of the speakers were offered honorariums. But this is not nearly enough.

When marginalised people enact futures we make the world better, fairer, more just and loving for everyone because we are the ones the system (and society) has systematically and continuously denied fairness, justice and love. This future cannot ride on the backs of our free labour. I/Mages took place in a London university because we believe that is the role of an institution like Goldsmiths which proclaims itself to be a progressive centre of knowledge. Because if a body of research, art and innovation in New Cross does not exist to imagine emancipated black and brown futures, then what is it there for?

We are fundraising for I/Mages of Tomorrow Part II, which we hope will take place in 2018 on a budget that can begin to provide appropriate remunerations for such an incredible range of contributions. We hope you will join us there.

The full programme of I/Mages of Tomorrow can be viewed at with recorded streams of most sessions. The speakers list will remain live as a directory of phenomenal QTIBPOC+ talent and experience. If you would like to support Part II, or want to find out more about I/Mages, email

Ama Josephine Budge is a science fiction and fantasy/art writer, artist and organiser whose work explores queer resistance, race and feminism.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament