The term “Afrofuturism” was coined in the 1990s by the cultural critic Mark Dery in his book Flame Wars, in an essay titled “Black To The Future,” recognizing a preoccupation with the future in the work of a number of Black artists.
Today, it has remained a term applied to seemingly disparate artists — ranging from artists such as Missy Elliot to Toni Morrison to mainstream blockbusters such as Black Panther. In more recent years, there’s been another brilliant mind who has been added to the list: Vince Fraser.
Through his work, the London-based Afro-surrealist, visual artist, and illustrator, explores the Black experience, and refining what it is to be Black today in a futuristic context.
Just in time for the district’s annual celebration of Juneteenth, he’ll be taking his talents to ARTECHOUSE Washington D.C. with Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies is an award-winning cultural art exhibit exploring the historical Black experience, afrocentricity and the social justice issues facing the Black community. The critically acclaimed ‘Best Exhibition’ in Time Out Miami’s ‘Best of the City’ 2021 Awards, opens today, June 13th, and merges art, technology, history and poetry to tell a story about human triumphs. The exhibit comes to ARTECHOUSE DC after a successful run at Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas.
Fraser’s work has continued to evolve combining a variety of skills including film and motion whilst bridging the gap between fantasy and reality. Part of his mission is to inspire, educate and empower positive images of the African diaspora. In an interview with ESSENCE, he discusses his collaboration with ARTECHOUSE, the future of art and what it’s like being a London-based artist representing the African American experience.
As an artist who investigates many messages and themes, how do you determine what to focus on, and what environment or audience will best receive the work?
I’m an artist of the times so I tend to focus on the here and now as opposed to future realities. I try to document what’s happening around me globally whether it’s in London or the States but also take bits from the past and reimagine them in the present. These can be historical elements like African Masks, these are an important part of Africa’s ancient tribal traditions, and are still being made and used today. African tribes believe these masks can provide a vital gateway into the spiritual world when worn during rituals and ceremonies, so they hold a special sacred significance. Using objects that are symbolic to black culture allows me to tap into a wider audience combining ancestral heritage with modern sensibilities. Whilst recreating the ancient African Kings and Queens theme, the viewer gets invited to interact with them in a whole new context never seen before, creating their own frequencies and metaphorical wavelengths. In working with ARTECHOUSE on this exhibit, it was certainly a collaborative process. While I was providing visual assets, it was the team at ARTECHOUSE that then adapted and reimagined those for an audience experience through the use of the latest tech tools.
The European Black experience and the American Black experience are very different and alike at the same time. As a London-based artist catering to an African-American audience, how did you intersect the two?
Although the experiences are different to some extent, I believe fundamentally Black people experience very similar things whether it’s in Europe or America. For the exhibition I wanted to take a historical event like the George Floyd incident and highlight all the social justice issues around it including racial discrimination, inequality and police brutality experienced by people of colour. This particular topic is prevalent in Europe especially in the UK where there is a lack of confidence between the black community and the police, so I wanted to show it through my own unique perspective so everyone could relate to it. For me it’s all about storytelling, highlighting issues and contributing to help build a more positive future where everyone is equal regardless of race and color. So my message is we need to continue to spread the message for change to occur in society.
From Miami to London, DC to Las Vegas, a number of institutions and galleries have showcased your work. What are the benefits to exhibiting in a wide variety of cities and events across the globe?
It’s a dream come true if I’m honest, something which I had thought about for many years but always seemed out of reach. I think a lot of artists would love to be able to showcase their work around the world because it increases visibility and exposes you to a wider audience ensuring longevity, legacy and the impact of your brand. Plus you never know who you’re going to meet at an event, so the door is always open to new opportunities. This is something I am very thankful to the ARTECHOUSE team for making possible, as they really come through on their mission to empower artists and bring our work to the largest audience possible. I’m excited to see where we can take this exhibit next and certainly hope it will come to London one day.
How did the collaboration with ARTECHOUSE come about? How do you choose who to work with?
I reached out to the founder and chief creative director Sandro about 3/4 years ago and we began talking and built up a relationship over that period so it was not an overnight thing. We first collaborated in the middle of the pandemic on an XR project that the ARTECHOUSE team reached out to me about and one that went live across BLM plazas in August of 2020. And then we started building on that relationship, working from different continents making the exhibit happen.
I’m very picky with who I work or collaborate with hence why I haven’t done many collaborations in the past. It’s very difficult finding people who share the same vision, qualities and understanding but I felt the Artechouse team really understood my work and I fully entrusted them with the vision they had for this exhibit. I had an idea what ARTECHOUSE could do, but I had no idea what they would be able to create. They produce and create thought provoking, groundbreaking work which aligns with my vision. Their team was able to take my visual assets and create this incredible, first of its kind state of the art immersive and interactive exhibition that focuses on the black experience. Would just like to say a big shoutout to Artechouse for believing in my work and sharing it with the audience in the US.
As technology advances and new styles and mediums evolve, what do you think the future of art or “futuristic art” will look like?
The future of art will be dictated by technology where the physical world merges with the digital more coherently creating next-generation experiences. Artists like myself can build deeper emotional connections and connect in a more meaningful way with the viewer. We are living in exciting times at the moment with so many possibilities in terms of digital tools available for creatives. It will be very interesting as Ai tools become more accessible to creatives allowing them to literally create art by typing prompts on a computer. Not sure, what will become of the traditional artist in the future? Maybe everyone will become an artist?
How does Ursula Rucker’s work amplify the experience? Why was it important to add this element?
Well, I’m a huge music fan and the ARTECHOUSE team always puts an emphasis on the sound and music within their exhibitions, so it was agreed that the exhibition needed that next dimension. I was drawn to a spiritual realm so the Nyabinghi Drums were initially added. The term “Nyabinghi” was used in Rwanda and Uganda describing a woman whose name meant “ the one who possesses many things,” this religious belief allowed worshippers to connect with the spirit through a medium. Eventually it was introduced to Jamaica by the Rastafarians who used it to describe their gatherings and drumming practices.
However, after adding them we all felt that it still lacked depth, so we went back to the drawing table and that was when ARTECHOUSE team suggested that it needed some spoken words, to guide the viewer through the experience, similar to what they noted in some of my online pieces. Having followed Ursula’s work from the early nineties when she did tracks like “Supernatural” with King Britt I knew someday I’d work with her, but didn’t realize it would take nearly 30 years to do so (lol). While we explored a few other voice artists, she was ultimately the perfect choice for the show that we as a team agreed to, beautiful storytelling skills and an absolute pleasure to work with. And of course it was great that she shared the excitement we had for this project and jumped on to be a part of it, creating original poetry for this exhibit.