Hand in hand with the performing arts comes recording and documenting it. There are many national archive collections, some of which are specifically for the preservation of black theatre, such as the Black Plays Archives. Even though they’re being documented for the future, these diverse Black legacies are being homogenised and compared to White performance history. Black Futures is the complete opposite. It’s actually rejecting this archiving landscape entirely and is set in an alternative world instead.
Black Futures is an immersive website which showcases the work created by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Nina Bowers, and Nine Nights. The content is about Afro-centric experiences across different mediums, times and places. In this sense, Black Futures is more like a speculative anthology like Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, edited by Edward Austin Hall and Bill Campbell. Entering the website makes you feel like you’re discovering new worlds within a tiny island.
The website is a VR performance piece in and of itself – but it’s not the smoothest experience. It feels like a rudimentary and psychedelic version of Google maps or Minecraft where you get to direct yourself. Unlike a literary anthology, you can easily spend so much time trying to navigate the website that you aren’t able to watch the content in quick succession and then you lose the sense of curation.
It took a while to figure out that you have to use the direction keys to turn left and right. Luckily, there are hyperlinked pictures at the bottom you can use to directly get to different areas of the island and find the content on the website. Maybe these can be captioned so people know exactly what content is where.
The website’s theme of creating a whole new world is emulated in Brathwaite-Shirley’s video game, ‘Into the Storm’. Regarding what drove her to create this alternative world, Brathwaite-Shirley commented that there aren’t any adequate Black trans spaces on Earth so she made one beyond it. Brathwaite-Shirley’s command of free and amateur technology, such as the motion capture and 3D animation, is commendable. Her video game is a brilliant example of commissioning the right type of ideas for this sort of website. However, you have to exit the website and go onto YouTube to actually choose the next chapters in the video game. Unfortunately this interrupts the overall immersive experience of the website so it may not be the right space for interactive content.
Through their curation, Anthony Simpson-Pike and Rose Elnile have platformed thoughtful artistic practices, from artists who wouldn’t get a chance to be commissioned in a normative White dominant society. These artists were only given a week and there are only three pieces so far. As more content gets added, there could be other islands so that the content could be grouped thematically such as a music island, a video game island, and a short film island. Right now, there is a risk of sensory overload with the brightness and abrasiveness of the colours on the website. There should be an option to navigate the website in grayscale. It would be great if there were estimated viewing times or a note of how long each video is or even how many videos there are in total so you don’t feel so lost as to where to start or stop. These areas of improvement will engage a wider audience and help disseminate Black Futures’ message further: it is decolonising the performing arts landscape and archive.