The Stories of Black People Don’t Begin With Slavery. This New Pan-African Exhibit Blending Art and Technology Shows How.

Photo courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Imagine using augmented reality to learn about African kings and queens not featured in the average textbook. Or, seeing some of the most pivotal moments of the Black Lives Matter movement projected on screens all around you. Or hearing the pulsating rhythms of drums and soul-stirring poetry that speaks to past and present.

These are just a few of the immersive experiences at Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies, a new exhibit that celebrates Black culture in a one-of-a-kind way. The exhibit is a collaboration between London-based Afro-surrealist and visual artist, Vince Fraser and ARTECHOUSE — the first independent art organization dedicated to the intersection of art, science and technology.

“My work is based around Afro-surrealism as opposed to Afrofuturism, which is more looking at how things could be in the future. Afro-surrealism is more about the present. It’s looking at how you can bring things from the past, put them in the present and highlight them in a surreal way. That’s what I focus my ideas and concepts around, ” Fraser told ESSENCE.

Inspired by the idea of aṣẹ (also spelled ashe)—the West African concept meaning the power to make things happen and create change— Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies celebrates the historical, social and cultural aspects of Black culture from Fraser’s perspective as a Black British man of Jamaican heritage. It also explores the idea that the concept of Afrocentricity has its own frequencies and metaphorical wavelengths that people can tune into.

“I centered everything around really just trying to make change, make a positive change, empower my culture and then show that through a Black lens,” Fraser said.

The Miami-based exhibit is a unique celebration of the African Diaspora, highlighting stories from trial to triumph, paying homage to sacrifices of those that came before and celebrating the beauty and diversity of Black people across the globe.

Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies takes modern imagery, combines it with powerful presentations from the past and brings it all to life. The visuals that Fraser creates and the messages at the heart of them are thought-provoking and particularly relevant, not only to stories of the past but the social justice movements of the present like the global Black Lives Matter movement.

“I drew from African history. I went back and started looking a lot at African masks and I tend to focus on African kings and queens as well. I do this because in Western society, they don’t really teach Black history at all,” Fraser said. “I also incorporate Black social justice elements of today like the global response to the death of George Floyd.”

The fusion of these elements in the exhibit isn’t just immersive and informative, it’s also interactive. From the collage-like narratives projected around the space, to the way the art moves and also responds to movement, this innovative approach does not only center Black stories, but it makes them accessible to the next generation.

“We’re all about using the latest tools to tell important stories. Through our unique approach using technology and supporting great visual artists like Vince Fraser, this exhibit is addressing timeless questions of identity, power and belonging in innovative ways,”said ARTECHOUSE Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Sandro Kereselidze.

Beyond the dynamic visuals, the other integral part of the multi-sensory Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies experience is the use of audio. There are the sounds of African drums and the voice of  another Black artist, American poet Ursula Rucker, whose words intricately connect the dots of Fraser’s visuals and speak life into the stories it tells.

“I wrote words that are a reminder of that epic memory, that Black memory, you know that diasporic memory, that African memory. It’s that organic, beginning memory that we all have,” Rucker explained.

The Philadelphia-based poet also noted the use of repetition and references to Sankofa as  intentional messages to Black people everywhere. The meaning of Sankofa— to reach back and retrieve— is taken literally so those in the Diaspora may learn more of their history and tell their own stories.

“Oh, yeah, Vince Fraser. He believed in it. He understood the collective, cooperative engagement that we have to have with each other, which is also part of Sankofa. And, so yeah, let’s go back and get our sh-t. Literally. Let’s know our stories and let’s prosper. That’s what the whole exhibit is,” she said.

The combination of the powerful imagery and audio conjure up a remembrance of that diasporic memory, of the power of where Black people come from and also is a reminder that the stories of people of African descent do not begin with enslavement and institutional oppression.

This exhibit serves not only as art but as a call to action in many ways— to collaborate, to uplift one another, to learn and to progress.

Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies is a result of intentional and impactful collaboration beyond borders.

It’s a unique combination of how art and technology can be used to center diverse voices and tell a human story of trial and triumph.

“I hope people learn something new. I hope when they go, it makes people think and it educates them. I want it to inspire and empower people. I hope it will make people look at it and see the celebration of it all. I really just want to empower my culture, empower Black people,” Fraser said.

Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies will be on display at ARTECHOUSE in Miami until November 7, 2021.

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