Saturday, May 04, 2013

Lao Futurism and lessons from Afrofuturism.

Lao Futurism is still a work in progress. It may not even actually exist as a definable aesthetic and cultural movement of interest to scholars yet. But what might happen if we saw the various elements of our culture take it seriously and consider what it would mean to occupy that seemingly distant space and point in time.

A culture without a capacity to envision itself in the future is careening towards a dead-end where its residents will be co-opted into the future of others. If we want an enduring Laos, it must dare to articulate a future for itself, even if it sometimes feels silly or beyond our means.

We must create realms of optimism wherein our many participants can see themselves and explore the heights that should mark the Golden Age of Lao philosophy, thought, and innovation, a Lao renaissance.

I've been engaged with the topic for some time, although it's often felt like there were few others actively wrestling with the topic in the Lao community. Which struck me as odd, given how often I visit Lao households where the children are playing video-games centered on the futuristic visions and myths of other societies. But where were their visions, their sense of presence within speculative literature beyond that of the observer?

Along the way, I ran into many intriguing figures within the Afrofuturism movement. Some only by books and music, others in person.

Among my personal favorites have been writers like Minister Faust and Dr. Nnedi Okorafor. I'll confess I love the concepts of Samuel Delaney more than the actual reading of his books, but his essays on writing are almost all absolute must-reads.

Minister Faust recently contributed a great article to IO9.Com on the contributions of George Clinton and Parliament, which I think is a great role model for our own artists. Parliament was an amazing response to the exclusion of meaningful African and African American voices within speculative literature. But even if you weren't into the socio-political subtext of Afrofuturism, you could still groove to the music.

To me, Ketsana is the only Lao musician we have who even comes close, but I hope in the future we see some really ambitious and amazing work from her that blows everyone away and redefines Lao Futurism. Here's her song "Chanting: Inner Peace," but my favorite of hers that hints of Lao Futurism is "Vientiane by Night."

Faust helpful reminds us of Clinton's liner notes for Parliament's retrospective album: Tear The Roof Off: 1974-1980:
Funk upon a time, in the daze of the Funkapus, the earth was on the One. Funk flowed freely and freedom was free from the need to be free. Even Cro-Nasal Sapiens and the Thumpasorus Peoples lived side by side in P(eace). 
But soon there arose bumpnoxious empires led by unfunky dictators. These priests, pimps, and politicians would spank whole nations of unsuspecting peoples – punishing them for their feelings and desires, constipating their notions and pimping their instincts until they were fat, horny and strung-out… 
The descendants of the Thumpasorus Peoples knew Funk was its own reward. They tried to remain true to the pure, uncut Funk. But it became impossible in a world wooed by power and greed. So they locked away the secret of Clone Funk with kings and pharaohs deep in the Egyptian pyramids, and fled to outer speace [sic] to party on the Mothership and await the time they could safely return to refunkatize the planet.
 And I admit, I'm nowhere near as unrepentantly funky to put out a story like that, but it's a vibe and energy that demonstrates what it's like to create culture shift and crack bedrock.

Many of our emerging Lao writers are influenced by the hip-hop scene, and I have high hopes for what they contribute, and what they bring back. Lao culture has thrived for over 600 years from encounters with others while still retaining a fundamental desire to pass on and retain our language and approach to life. With luck we might last another 400 or more.

Or we might crack apart in 40. Who knows.

Another important project from Afrofutuism influencing my thoughts on the matter is Sanford Bigger's Cartographer's Conundrum, which is an installation, film and website inspired by artist, scholar and Afro-futurist John Biggers. Sanford Biggers traveled "through western Africa along the same route John Biggers followed in the 1950s, meeting with colleagues and family members along the way."

He blended science-fiction, cosmology and technology to create a new folklore of the African Diaspora while simultaneously illuminating the underrepresented career of master painter and muralist John Biggers. How might we create something worthy for the Lao diaspora?

The Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology took a pause, I must confess because Saymoukda Vongsay and I are trying to get our own projects finished. DEMONSTRA will be out soon, and her play Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals will also be due out in October. That's a lot of pressure between now and then.

But we anticipate the anthology will come out next year in time for the next Lao American Writers Summit and Lao Artists Festival.

Now, back to the getting us in space!

No comments: