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What is Afrometropolis? An interview with Edson Burton

This month we present the first instalment of Arnolfini Lates, a series of immersive artist takeovers. First up, Arnolfini will become Afrometropolis – a futuristic funkadelic new city. We caught up with the curator Edson Burton to find out more.

Please can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I am Dr Edson Burton, a writer, historian and programmer. I’m one part of Come the Revolution, a programming collective supported by Watershed and South West & West Midlands Film Hub. I also work at Trinity as an engagement officer on the theatre programme IGNiTE. 

I’ve been inspired by Afrofuturism, a movement that links together African diaspora perspectives on magical realism, sci-fi and fantasy. I have just completed a residency at Watershed on a project called The Last Blues Song of a Lost Afronaut. Some of my collaborators from this will also be joining this linked adventure at Arnolfini, Lates: Afrometropolis Live

         Image by Drojan Visuals

What is Afrometropolis and what is the inspiration behind it?

Afrometropolis is a one night take-over of the Arnolfini with Come the Revolution which will be creating an imaginary vision of a future city. It will be an inclusive Afro future city . It’s not Lagos, it’s not Kingston Jamaica, it’s not Harlem, Brixton or St Pauls , it is an amalgamation of these cities. We’ve  themed the rooms with a sort of ying and yang / male and female perspective of pioneering visionary voices in Black culture & sci-fi culture. For example, Saul Williams the great spoken poet, and Audre Lorde the feminist writer, become ‘Saul Lorde Corner.’  a space for a  spoken word coming together.

Participation is key, whether sharing a poem, being part of the musical sounds being made, or by adding to the live illustrations growing in the auditorium. There is the chance to shape the evening and ideas of this future space.


The event uses multiple art forms to imagine new futures for our society. I’m interested to get your take on how art can be used as a tool to create space for imagination that leads to societal change?

Perhaps there are two ways that we can think about arts role in this. Sometimes art is a great warning to society, it’s about the preservation of certain values which are threatened. Also, I think art is about vision. Thinking of William Blake for example, art can be about the vision of things we would like to see, not just cerebrally thinking, but experiencing and bringing into being through imagination. And as we know within science and real scientific advance, sometimes it is the spaces which art creates that leads science to ask new questions and try and make new realities. So, this is about coming together to collectively create different experiences and in doing, seeing a glimpse of what is possible.


I’m really excited about the range of experiences on the night from creating manifestos to dancing. Can you talk us through how you have approached the curation of the night?

For me what's quite key to this project is the idea of a human metropolis. Arnolfini represents a wonderful invitation because it gives us a chance to think about the whole city the whole person, about holistic experience. I think sometimes when we engage with intellectual debate and discussion we leave part of our self behind - the experiential. And in some ways the experiential gives us a chance to see who we are, and who we can be, through interaction. Something more honest and stripped down.

If I think of our city now, we are very much concerned, perhaps to our detriment sometimes, with heritage. The heritage of which class and race divides the city, slave city and so on. But what comes after that? Where do we want to get to? And how do we create that reality through a glimpse of the today.

So, theses spaces in some ways are about talking to the multiple nature of human need and human personality. It is experiential, emotional, cerebral and is expressed in different forms. But it is also collaborative, and the city is a collaboration between different energies and a collaboration between technologies and art and life. By bringing the different forms together, we are imagining how they might exist in reality. 


Please can you tell us a little about the history of the Afrometropolis? Where has the idea been explored before? 

There are different artists who explore the idea of ‘Afrometropoli’. For me the idea came from The Last Blues Song Project at Watershed. The story within this project begins on Earth in an imaginary city and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore that imaginary city.

I’ve been partly dissatisfied with some of the takes on afro-futurism in the past. I think that sometimes they don't necessarily proceed from the basis of the alternative aesthetics of African art, culture and music. This is something that I would like to address. I’m not saying that we are going to be able to do that all in one night, but I think we are trying to address the question, ‘what if we started our idea of modernity from a different premise?’

So, the architecture of that city is based upon African architecture from across the continent. But at the same time, it is mindful of sustainability and transport and so on. What would it look like to have something which is ethical, humanistic, and technologically driven in a future space? What I tend to see currently is an interpretation of Eurocentric models of city development and I feel there is still something a little bit deeper that can be presented. 

On the night itself I think what we are doing is having a glimpse or a glimmer of an alternative city with a different aesthetic and a different way of coming together. 


What can Bristol learn from the Afrometropolis today?

That art is central to life. That we need to foreground spaces in which human interaction across generations, across class are central and pivotal.

Also, to have the courage to create the sustainable futures that we want to inhabit. Not to believe that these things are too bold and too utopian. I mean inevitably if we survive as a species what is seen as utopian has to become a reality. 



The Afrometropolis is supported by Afrikaeye & the Rebel Bluesman and is curated by  Come the Revolution & The Last Blues Song of a Lost Afronaut.









Friday 20 September 2019, 10:00 to 17:30


Visual Arts South West in partnership with Arnolfini invites artists, curators, arts organisations and audiences ...