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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 www.imagesoftomorrow.wixsite.com/2017 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 imagesoftomorrow@protonmail.com

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