Science fiction has had an awkward relationship with Africa. Many science fiction themes, from zombies to aliens, have their roots in Western fears about the “dark continent”.
But recent years have seen the growth of science fiction by African writers, film makers and artists, such as Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9.
These themes are explored in Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction, a new exhibition of short films and artworks at Bristol’s Arnolfini centre.
Many of the exhibits examine migration and perceptions of migrants.
Omer Fast’s three?part film Nostalgia shows how a Nigerian asylum seeker’s simple childhood anecdote can be repossessed and twisted to reinforce the notion that African migrants are “backward” or are merely powerless victims.
Another highlight is Pumzi, a film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu. It tells of a post-apocalyptic underground world where water is the most valuable commodity. Asha dreams of escaping back to Earth’s surface and recreating life on the planet.
Several of the works play with time, colliding past, present and future together. Neil Beloufa’s Kempinski shows Malian workers describing their conceptions of the future in the present tense. The piece exudes hope in the here-and-now.
The emphasis on migration and the concept of the “alien” can be problematic. At times it simply plays to rather than challenging liberal or reactionary ideas of Africa.
Nevertheless this remains an evocative collection that draws out many issues facing African workers today—and offers some overdue international recognition for African science fiction.