- Close-Up Gallery:The Afrosurrealist Film Society
The Afrosurrealist Film Society is an imaginary collective of artist-intellectuals who engage film in its varied forms and transnational histories. Animated by Amiri Baraka’s chant “Afro-Surreal Expressionism,” we seek through our creations an entirely different world, a marvelous world, that lies just beneath the surface of this one—its vernaculars, its haunts, and oh, its delights and curiosities. We draw upon an electric mash-up of folklore, history, (sub) consciousness and location in order to engage representations and refractions of reality through film’s necessary framings and inevitable distortions. Sensual in all we do. Industrious and tenacious, we retreat whenever possible for contemplation, conversation and creativity. Black Liberation! And Beauty. Abstraction. With roots.
Overview: The Afrosurrealist Film Society
This gallery addresses questions the introduction leaves open: Who are the Afrosurrealists? And what does their work look like? What follows is a selected survey of artists working in experimental film today, supplementing those already discussed in the Close-Up. The images illustrate a range of concerns and methods and certainly a diversity of formal choices by artists intrigued by the term Afrosurrealism. The images underscore the desired lack of cohesion among experimental filmmakers generally and black experimental artists would not necessarily wish to depart from this—but solidarity, community and legacy are critical values that do create bonds; this Close-Up marks lines of friendship.
There is always that vexing question of categorization and how to define [End Page 209] black film which is snagged by the whole rage-making question of what is black or why does it have to just be black, it’s so much more? How to square the meaningfulness of identity and the meaning we take from form—not that expressions of identity do not represent highly considered formal aesthetic choices. Are discussions of culture and discussions of aesthetics always different and separate discussions—and can’t identity and culture be discussed without it being so … literal, determinative and frustrating?
What does Afrosurrealism really mean? Why is the “afro” on there? Are we really supposed to be a separate, new, afro form of surrealism? Does surrealism really need this extra prefix? How comfortable are we with biological definitions of black film? What is creativity? What about creativity?
Recall the opening to Thomas Cripps’s “Definitions” chapter in Black Film as Genre: “black film may be defined as those motion pictures made for theater distribution that have a black producer, director, and writer, or black performers; that speak to black audiences or, incidentally, to white audiences possessed of preternatural curiosity, attentiveness, or sensibility toward racial matters; and that emerge from self-conscious intentions, whether artistic or political, to illuminate the Afro-American experience.” But, as he conceded, “Black film taken in its narrowest sense then consists of only a tiny body of work seen by a coterie of black moviegoers, then consigned to an early death in dusty storerooms. … ” Keep it loose or risk—so much is at stake. Afrosur-realism is a no-theory that welcomes theorizations.1
Not that it isn’t absurd to be so specific or feel the obligation to be so specific about the blackness of or the motivations of what black artists are doing when they could be doing anything for any reason or for no reason; still, Afrosurrealism as an imaginary works and it excites. Within film studies and within histories of the avant-garde Afrosurrealism offers discursive space in which to open up conversations about experimental filmmaking among African Diaspora artists and more themes and questions around the ongoing deliberation on film as art. Let Afrosurrealism be energizing and organizing and then let it go. [End Page 210]
Photographs, Film Stills, Screen Grabs, and Frame Enlargements
1. Cauleen Smith (Figure 1)
“The Maladjusted are a tribe of creatives who use images in service of time-based media. The Maladjusteds love a good action flick as much as the next person. The writer admires filmmakers who blow shit up, propel objects in space, animate alien creatures, and imbue electromagnetic fields with punishing spiritual malice. However: The Maladjusteds do not require narrative to experience the rewards...