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Black ancestors take up metaphysical residence at Hatfield House through image and artifact

August 16, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediaMediumPurpose
Black people have systemically been excluded from the documentation and retelling of history. In their latest work, Black Quantum Futurism seeks to rectify that with a multimedia “time machine” that makes past, present, and future tangible.

On August 14, BQF, in collaboration with Fairmount Park Conservancy, launched “Ancestors returning again/this time only to themselves” — an Afro-futuristic immersive art installation at Hatfield House in Fairmount Park. The new film “Write No History” (2021), an audiovisual triptych directed and produced by Black Quantum Futurism and filmmaker Bob Sweeney, was filmed onsite and anchors the installation.

The film’s title is a reference to a slave narrative — and to the Temporal Disruptors and place-based portals that are the two main threads of the installation.

Image from the film “Write No History” by Black Quantum Futurism. (Film screenshot by Bob Sweeney)

The Temporal Disruptors are a society of ancestral archetypes, an amalgamation of historical Black figures including doctors, artists, inventors, and healers. They are the ones returning and making metaphysical residence of Hatfield House through spirit, image, and artifact.

Along with their likenesses which appear on video and print throughout the gallery are the repetition of items and imagery like keys, cowrie shells, and clocks/watches and their mechanics symbolizing the connection between the Disruptors’ various timelines and the clues they’ve left behind to be rediscovered and restored. In this way, Hatfield House does not simply contain a time capsule, the structure itself becomes an actual time machine containing objects and possibilities from the past, present, and future.

As a former girls’ school that has been relocated and reconstructed from its original location, the history and various iterations of Hatfield House further expound on the idea that sites are not static, but rather imperative parts of the continuum of quantum history.

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The idea that Black people must travel back in time in order to move forward is both ancient and diasporic in origin. Sankofa is a traditional Ghanaian symbol and concept that means “to go back and retrieve.” Commonly visually represented as either a stylized heart or a bird whose head is turned opposite its body with an egg in its beak,  subtle and loose interpolations of sankofa’s iconography and ideation are evocative throughout Hatfield House.

Hatfield House is located in Strawberry Mansion, the same predominantly Black neighborhood where Black Quantum Futurism is based. Having this exhibit be in close proximity and accessible to their own community is part of their praxis.

“Our whole approach to archiving is very communal, making the archive as open and accessible as possible knowing that we have for so long been and continue to be cut off from our histories, our art and our own archives when [those archives] are locked away in universities and places that folks can’t access our rich history,” said Rasheedah Phillips, one half of BQF.

“Then to see the very real and direct effect that has on our communities when we’re pushed out due to gentrification and when buildings are built over the only real things that do tell us anything about our history which are often murals,” Phillips added.

L to r: Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips of Black Quantum Futurism. (Photo by Chris Silitch)

A multi- and interdisciplinary practice led by Phillips, a housing rights lawyer and activist, and Camae Ayewa, a musician also known as Moor Mother, BQF’s work, which spans publications, performances, placemaking and other projects, have been recognized and awarded locally and internationally by institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, Knight Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, ICA London, and others.

Ancestors is in conversation with the duo’s existing work, which draws upon the interplay of quantum physics,  Afro-futurism, and Afro-diasporic cultural tradition and production, including the play Circuit City and a recently released essay titled Project: Time Capsule.

“When you’re leaving stories for the future, what is the story you’re telling? When that person finds it, what are they gonna think about the past and who existed in that past and gets to be part of those time capsules?” Phillips asks.

And while the contents of their site-specific time capsule is in the realm of the speculative, it should not be considered any less valid.

“We use our speculation to say maybe we have a voice or agency to complete this story,” Ayewa said. “We tell our own perspective, and it’s saying that you do not have to be cosigned by Harvard or whatever to have speculation on life, especially speculation on where we come from and where we’re going.”

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“Ancestors returning again/this time only to themselves” at Hatfield House in Fairmount Park is free and open to the public, and runs through September 19.

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